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Europe Florence Food From Travels Italy

Gelateria Santa Trinita

When I’m sitting mid-way through a tedious work week, my patience being tried and tested more than should be normal on a day to day basis, my mind inevitably wanders to my travels. To where I’d rather be. We all do it, be it dreaming of lying in the sun on a beach somewhere tropical or breathing in mountain air in the French Alps. There are many places I’d like to be, but today it happens to be sitting under the shade of the Duomo in Florence, reading a book whilst sipping on an aperol spritz before deciding to wander down to the river in the late afternoon sun. I’d walk past Ponte Vecchio and along the Arno, crossing at Ponte Santa Trinita for this: gelato from the aptly named Gelateria Santa Trinita.

Flashback to September: word of mouth has spread, my bed and breakfast host Biagio sending me to join the locals and tourists alike to try some of the best Florentine gelato. Biagio never was wrong with his recommendations. Italy isn’t short of good gelato, but this place deserves to be written about and ventured to.

Gelateria Santa Trinita make fresh flavours every day, with up to 38 different flavours of gelato, sorbet and even ice cream cake in the busy summer months, and they are constantly dreaming up new innovative flavours to go alongside the universally loved classics. As ever when it comes to ice cream, narrowing down the flavours becomes a challenge – at least it does for me, as I’ll want at least six. One I almost never steer from is Stracciatella, probably because you never seem to get it in England much, and if you do it’s never as good as its European counterparts. Creamy vanilla flavoured with chocolate chunks in it, it’s the perfect accompaniment to something a little punchier. Today that flavour is their signature, the Santa Trinita; mascarpone gelato swirled with hazelnut chocolate – essentially, swirled with nutella. Yes. A thousand times yes.

I think it must be some sort of unwritten rule to eat your gelato whilst sitting on the bridge overlooking the famous Ponte Vecchio in the distance. On the day I ate the best gelato in Florence, the sun was setting on the other side of the bridge I sat on, the city swiftly becoming one of my favourite places in the world. And when you can buy gelato that good for a few euros, who could blame me?

Piazza Frescobaldi, 11/12 R, Firenze, Italy
+39 055 238 1130

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London

The Gantry 

One of the best things about moving somewhere new is undoubtedly discovering all the restaurants, bars and cafes that are only known to the locals in the vicinity. I’ve already sourced the best takeaway in Brockley, and now I’ve got another fast favourite in The Gantry. At first glance The Gantry looks like a small wine bar, dotted on the corner of Brockley Road as you turn off toward the station. However if you turn the corner inside you find a hodge podge of rooms in a quirky set up, culminating in a bright but cosy conservatory and hidden garden area at the back, which will be perfect for a quick glass of wine and bar bites come summer.

Not only is this a great neighbourhood place to grab a drink (the wine is very good, and I always find being able to buy by the carafe a nice touch), but the food here is excellent and 100% lived up to the expectations I had formed after several stints drooling over the menu online. My friend opted for the small charcuterie board to start (£7), which looked great and something I would definitely order in future, whilst I went for the goats cheese and baked apple millefeuille (£6), which was balanced artfully on top of a crispy pastry nest. Not being what I would usually go for, I was swayed by the goats cheese and was impressed with the balance of flavours and textures.

Mains were lamb shank on a bed of parsnip and potato mash with a honey and red wine sauce (£17) and chicken and crayfish fricassee served with a spinach and mushroom lasagne (£13). We both did that whole ‘roll your eyes into the back of your head’ thing when we tried our meals and I really cannot recommend the lamb dish enough, as tender as it was, the meat falling off the bone just as it should do and swimming in that rich gravy. I would have maybe liked a little more mash, but then mash is a main feature of my death row meal so I never think there’s enough of it. A side of buttered kale with pine nuts (£3.80) completed the main course perfectly.

Apparently unable to resist sticky toffee pudding whenever it features on a menu – which I am steadfastly claiming to be an act of thorough research into my quest for London’s best sticky toffee puds – I of course tacked this onto the end of my meal despite being comfortably full. It was a good competitor in the sauce and ice cream accompaniment stakes, though the sponge not as light as I like. Luckily there are an array of other enticing choices on the dessert menu such as tarte tatin and chocolate pastilla to try on the next visit.

The Gantry spruce up the menu regularly, as well as serving roasts on Sundays and brunch every weekend until 1pm, which makes finding an excuse to swing by fairly easy. Plus they do a special burger night on Mondays, where you get a free pint or glass of wine with your order, and on Tuesdays do steak and fries for a tenner. The drinks menu alone is enough to pull you in for a few, with Whitstable pale ale, Asahi, Sam Adams and Stowford Press cider all on tap, an extensive list of wines from around the world and a cocktail menu to boot.

Might pop in there tonight, actually.

 

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Bottomless Breakfast and Brunch London

The Botanist

I have been hunting for a rival to my long-time favourite bottomless brunch at South Place Chop House for a while now, and the beautifully designed Broadgate Circle outpost of The Botanist has finally achieved it. All in spite of the fact that this brunch has a two hour limit – usually a pet hate of mine. That makes me sound…not great. Shut up, I don’t like to be rushed, okay? I like to linger over a table with friends and family, and all the better when someone is topping up my glass for hours on end without my noticing.

A lot of places doing all you can drink brunches in London now seem to be running on the novelty of the occasion, and that works. It pulls in the masses and is brilliant for large groups for birthdays and other special occasions since it’s good value for money and frankly, a lot of fun. Twenty somethings in London are all over it. Sometimes the food is pushed by the wayside though, and it’s great to see The Botanist bringing an offering to the table that perhaps A Bit Fancier and certainly special enough to take your family to, should you wish to initiate them into the London brunch scene.

As a large group of fifteen we had to pre-order our meal which was no mean feat. Guessing what you’ll fancy to eat in advance is never easy, and the stellar starter selection in particular made it near on impossible to choose. Luckily with a sizeable team of brunchers you can usually bargain your way into a bite of several different dishes. An original twist on the classic Eggs Benedict, the soft shell crab Benedict with jalapeño hollandaise was a popular if unusual choice, though do be sure you like a bit of spice in your food before getting swayed by those gorgeous three words “soft shell crab” – it had quite a kick for the first meal of the day. The classic came with caviar atop and the most perfect poached egg, though I could have done with a bit extra hollandaise to balance the huge English muffin everything was perched on. Avocado and chilli on toast was improved further with a couple of slices of smoked bacon perched on top and the chorizo and spring onion hash with double fried eggs served those getting over their hangovers  more than well.

The options for main include what may be one of the most tempting vegetarian meals I’ve heard of recently: artichoke tortellini, roast Jerusalem’s, walnut and kale pesto; though of course I will forever opt for the meat. Enter a Weiner schnitzel twice the size of my face, fried to golden perfection Weiner schnitzel, served with caper butter and one of the most delicious sides of mash I’ve had. Butter. Lots of butter. Huge portions of moules frites satisfied half the table and the salmon fishcake with spinach was a good option for something a bit smaller, making three courses all the easier to tackle.

Desserts included treacle tart and honeycomb cheesecake with figs, both very good but by this point most of us were stuffed and full of a combination of Bloody Mary’s, mimosas, bellinis, prosecco and wine. One of the biggest draws for this brunch is the unique element of having unlimited ETM wine at your disposal rather than the usual fizzy affair. I didn’t take advantage this time but I certainly will the next. With attentive staff, a setting that gorgeous – all copper and industrial but warm with soft leather seats at the same time, and food this good, there’s always a next time.

Broadgate Circle, City of London, EC2M 2QS
+44 (0)20 3058 9888
Nearest tube Liverpool Street or Moorgate

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Bath UK

Graze Bar & Chophouse

What feels like many moons ago – sadly, for it was among the best of weekends, a large group of friends and I hopped on the 11am train out of London to Bath for the weekend for a friends’ wedding, armed with prosecco and pain au chocolates in hand. Inevitably, our sightseeing day (“wouldn’t it be great to take the day off and actually see Bath”) turned into extensive research into the city’s pubs, with a quick afternoon culture dash to the Royal Crescent before returning to the hotel to change for cocktails and dinner.

After a recommendation from a friend of a friend, I booked a table at Graze for ten of us. And what a bang on choice for a large, enthusiastic (read: slightly inebriated) group of friends on a Friday night, something that can be difficult to cater for. The restaurant occupies a large airy space as well as al fresco areas for summer days, but happily the atmosphere is filled to the rafters rather than getting lost along the way, with large groups and small tables alike enjoying the buzzing ambiance. The kitchen is open plan, always a favourite of mine, and the staff were ever friendly and helpful in spite of how busy the restaurant was.

And then who can argue with a beautifully presented, perfectly cooked flat iron steak for a tenner? Being a chophouse, steak is the go-to option here, and I’m happy to confirm that the quality is excellent and the chefs deliver what you actually order (all too often medium isn’t medium). The chips are excellent – crispy and fluffy all at once, as they should be, and the peppercorn sauce is served in a jug big enough to swim in, which is just how I like it. Potatoes are offered five ways to compliment your order, and there are plenty of options to pimp your steak with extras, including making it a surf and turf with the addition of tiger prawns, as well as an array of butters and sauces to choose from. And that’s before you even get to the side dishes. If you’re not one for steak, there are a handful of fish and vegetarian options, as well as venison, beef and chicken burgers for good measure.

Having sampled the rich chocolate honeycomb bar and the sticky toffee and walnut pudding, I can say with confidence that desserts deserve a real shout out here. I am a tough judge of the classic sticky toffee pud and was relieved this one lived up to standards. I just wish I’d had room to start off the meal with one of the excellent sounding starters (seared scallops with black pudding: you’re mine next time).

Graze Bath is not the first of its kind, for they grace Bristol and Cirencester too, but this location is the only one with its own microbrewery, describing itself as “something of a flagship for Bath Ales”. In addition to the large range of ales and ciders Bath Ales offer, there are craft beers from around the world, as well aperitifs, top spirits and an extensive wine list (shout out to the delicious Santa Julia Organic Malbec, a steal at £23.50 a bottle). If I’ve not yet managed to convince you to try Graze next time you’re in Bath, this might – they offer a set menu at just £15 for 3 courses or £12 for 2 on weekdays. If that didn’t work, I’m sorry, I tried, you can’t be helped.

9 Brunel Square, Bath, BA1 1SX
+44 1225 429 392

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Asia Food From Travels Gili Islands Indonesia Lombok

Kayu Cafe

Warning: food envy – high risk. This is the place to come on Gili Trawangan if you’re looking for a great salad to help counteract all the damage you’re doing with the day-long Bintangs that merge into one big haze of making friends whilst drinking in the sea, sundowners at sunset and a night of the debauchery that Gili T is famous for.

Breakfast runs all day at Kayu, which is perfect for edging off the effects of the night before with omelettes, eggs benedict, full English and pancakes alongside healthier options such as granola and oatmeal. They have drinks fully covered too, offering a vast array of coffees: hot, iced, blended, flavoured (the creme brûlée made with ice cream, caramel and vanilla was delicious); plenty of health juices made with fresh fruit; smoothies and herbal teas.

Salads are a speciality of Kayu’s, with a wide range on the menu. The halloumi and quinoa salad is excellent, made with fresh ingredients and decked out with fancy cucumber ribbons. The yoghurt mint dressing was perfectly complimentary and there was plenty of it. Its the perfect size for lunch and generous on the halloumi, which I think we can all agree is the most important thing when it comes to halloumi, or indeed cheese in general. They also do an excellent quinoa and feta salad with honey and mustard vinaigrette, amongst plenty of other options, as well as a good range of paninis and a few pasta dishes too, so there really is something for everyone here.

After you’ve made attempts to fix your body with a juice and a salad (if you haven’t opted for a strong coffee and Full English, that is), there’s a big glass cabinet full of amazing looking cakes to undo all the good work: three layer chocolate cake, brownies, banana cake, apple slices and if you are aiming to be more health conscious, raw energy balls. This is one of the only places on the island that take care to offer some of the healthier options usually found in Ubud, and the café even sells some products from some of Ubud’s more famous health cafés for the islanders.

The food at Kayu Cafe is high quality, and you do pay a little more for it, with food coming in between 55,000 – 70,000 IDR and healthy juices at 39,000 IDR. The good news is tax and service is included, unlike many places in Indonesia, so in effect you’re not paying much more than elsewhere anyway. Wifi is free and strong – when it works! (The island is well known for its regular power cuts.)Service is a little slow, but you’re on island time, and I can think of worse places to wait for my food that overlooking the waters of Gili T.

Kayu Cafe, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia. To the left of the jetty in front of the night market as you look out to sea.
+62 (0) 878 6239308

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Europe Food From Travels London New York Paris

Aux Merveilleux de Fred

Merveilleux:  a cake made of two light meringues sandwiched together with whipped cream, then smothered in more whipped cream and covered in chocolate shavings. Sold yet? Yeah, thought as much. Or you could just refer to them as ‘meringue cream…things’ like me (my French is basic at best).

I would go so far as to say that these ‘meringue cream things’ from Aux Merveilleux de Fred are my favourite patisserie in the whole world. They are just…well, it kind of feels like eating light pillows of cream whilst meringue dissolves in your mouth with a bit of crunch and a bit of chocolate, and come on, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

Whenever I’m in Paris I drag whoever I’m with on a mission to the nearest shop I can find, promptly order at least four mini merveilleux to take away and shove in my mouth at periods varying between ‘immediately’ and ‘the next morning for breakfast’. Truth is, these are best eaten on the day. The shop make them constantly throughout opening hours and it’s all open so you can see them gathering up thousands of chocolate shavings lightly onto the cakes, from tiny bite sized ones to cakes to share, anywhere for between 4 and 24 people. Admittedly, sharing would be a tough ask.

My personal favourites are The Incroyable – meringue, speculoos biscuit and whipped cream covered in shaved white chocolate; and The Merveilleux – meringue and chocolate whipped cream with dark chocolate shavings all over. Also available as minis are the coffee flavour, cherry, caramel and my third runner up, The Magnifique – meringue and praline whipped cream covered in almond chips and caramelized hazelnuts.

If this all doesn’t sound good enough, just wait – Aux Merveilleux de Fred doesn’t just live in Paris, but in Belgium, Geneva, New York and London, too. Now if anyone wants to win me over, they only need pop over to the Old Brompton Road. No excuses, really.

Various locations: Paris (multiple), London, New York, Brussels, Knokke, Geneva

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Asia Food From Travels Philippines

El Chupacabra

I have never met anyone who likes Manila. Oh, apart from the random American dude who had been living in my hostel for eight – EIGHT – months without working, just getting drunk and stoned every day and not really leaving the hostel…but I wouldn’t deem him the best judge.

So there I am, in a hostel in Manila, sleeping in a dorm that looks like something out of Annie, surrounded by fifty Americans on a missionary project, missing my friends and hating Manila. The only thing that is going to rectify this shit show is either getting blind drunk in the safety of the hostel or some good food. But the hostel is full of fifty Americans on missionary project, so food it is. Good food fixes everything, at least for a little while.

A quick Google and browse of some local food blogs and I’m swiftly headed in a taxi to El Chupacabra, which turns out to be a true gem in horrible, dirty Manila. This Mexican joint is well known in hip Makati City; the food is authentic and well executed, the drinks are cheap and the restaurant surges into the street as the night goes on, staff erecting little tables and chairs further into the road until cars cannot pass due to an array of furniture propping up the in-the-know locals and expats alike.

El Chupacabra attracts a friendly crowd; the locals at the two tables next to me spoke to me openly, and changed my mind on Manila for around four hours, before a couple of scary cab journeys back to my hostel planted me firmly back into the ‘I Hate Manila’ camp. Can you tell? But my time at El Chupacabra was fun. My kind neighbours invited me to sample their sisig (135 PHP), a traditional Filipino sizzling pork dish with egg that cooks as you stir it and some of their seriously spicy chicken wings (250 PHP) over a few San Miguels. The Baja California fish tacos (125 PHP) were delicious and fresh, the fish beautifully crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside. I also tried the Barbecoa de Res tacos (125 PHP) – shredded chipotle beef stew, and the grilled chicken tacos (95 PHP) and the only problem with my meal was the fact I didn’t have anyone to share all of the other tacos on the menu with. The range at El Chupacabra is excellent, including spicy goat meat (150 PHP), spicy chipotle shrimp (145 PHP) and Shawarma style chili marinated pork (95 PHP), so you could happily sit eating only tacos all night long. Should you want something different,  they also serve Tex Mex style mains – burritos, nachos, rice plates and even burgers and hot dogs.

If there are more places like El Chupacabra in Manila, I want to know about them.  The grunginess of this open air taqueria gradually taking over the street as the hours tick away on a humid night suits the city and in particular the neighbourhood perfectly. This place has personality and a huge following for good reason. Go early to score a table in the thick of it – by 6.30pm the place was full and there are no reservations, so you’ll have to wait with a margarita or cold beer for your name to be called or for more tables to be put out. If I ever find myself in Manila again, this is the first (and possibly the only) place I’ll go.

5782 Felipe, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 2 895 1919

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Europe Florence Food From Travels Italy

Antica Trattoria da Tito

“Do you know the difference between restaurant and trattoria?”
“Err…”
My wonderful B&B host Biagio instantly launched into an explanation, “a trattoria is owned by family. Local! Traditional Tuscan – is very delicious. Trattoria da Tito is one of the very best in Florence. Restaurant is just…restaurant.”

Antica Trattoria da Tito turned out to be about five doors down from my B&B on via San Gallo. It’s a quiet street, less than five minutes walk around the corner from the home of Michelangelo’s David and just over ten minutes from the city’s spectacular Duomo. It being so close, I figured perhaps Biagio was purely recommending the trattoria to help out his neighbours, and yet when I walk down around 8.45pm on a Tuesday evening there is a queue out of the door and a waiting list. Luckily it’s only a half an hour wait, so I grab a glass of red wine and wait my turn for a meal in what is quite clearly not a struggling business down a quiet Florentine street after all.

My wait over, I’m led to a table towards the back of this bustling restaurant, Hotel California acting as the soundtrack to the electric atmosphere. This is the kind of restaurant – or, forgive me – trattoria,  where they explicitly say on their menus not to ask for your meat to be cooked more: “WE DON’T DO IT!!!” And don’t even think about asking for a cappuccino. This is true Italian authenticity, both in the food, the atmosphere and the service. Don’t mess with it. And why would you want to? The staff all look like they’re having ridiculous amounts of fun as they rush around serving with bright smiles, squeezing between each other at high speed, sharing quick jokes on the move and cheering raucously when one of their colleagues smashes a tray of glasses. They remember your name and they pull you the other side of the bar to do large shots of limoncello at the end of the night, before making you promise to return.

Smug with my choice to act on Biagio’s recommendation, I settled in to enjoy the buzz of laughing patrons at the tables around me, ordering half a litre of Chianti for a mere €6. An order of the tomato and basil bruschetta (€6.00) arrived shortly afterward, and I can confirm with confidence that it’s one of the most delicious bruschettas I’ve ever had. It was just so fresh. The perfect starter.

Next up was the wild boar pappardelle (€12.00), freshly made that day, as it is every day at Tito’s. It was as good as you would expect pasta to be in Italy, the simplicity of the dish delivered at high quality. The steaks and other mains such as traditional ossobuco being delivered to their tables looked amazing too, though I just can’t handle the amount of food Italians eat in one sitting, to my true despair. Which I guess just means I have to go back someday, as I promised. What a chore.

Via S. Gallo, 112, 50129 Firenze, Italy

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