Galley Beach Restaurant’s Coastal Cuisine

A Nantucket sunset photographed from Galley Beach Restaurant. 

 

Pink sunset, Galley Beach, Nantucket
Pink sunset, Galley Beach, Nantucket

With the late afternoon upon us, it is time to explore the north eastern part of the intriguing sea and windswept isle named Nantucket.

The White Elephant Hotel, where we are staying, ferries us to Galley Beach, a typically beautiful spot on Nantucket.   We walk through perfect white sand to the Galley Beach Restaurant and are assigned our table before having a stroll along the beach.  David Silva’s (nearly) open air restaurant is an almost organic part of the environment. As the light is waning, clouds part and the most magnificent sunset unfolds before our us.  Luckily I snap a few photos before the pink sun completely disappears.

Nantucket Lighthouse on the west of the island
Nantucket Lighthouse on the west of the island

 

Galley Beach Restaurant began life as a clam shack on Cliffside Beach in 1958 and has been owned and run by the same family ever since.  The off white décor, with just a hint of nautical, is inviting and place appropriate.  The see-through plastic hanging coverings keep the wind out but let the light and sunshine in.  Comfy wicker type chairs and hurricane lamps top the tables.  Shell decorations and natural fabrics in the restaurant continue the outdoor feel.  Many people choose to eat outside if the weather is suitable but we decide to stay in as there is already an autumn chill in the air.

Dining Room at night ©GalleyBeachRestaurant
Dining Room at night ©GalleyBeachRestaurant

David Silva, the current owner, happens to be on hand to help us select a good wine.  My companion is having Filet Mignon but I am interested in trying the fresh coastal cuisine and so ordered the cod filet with leek puree.  We decide to try a white wine.  The Starry Night, 2010 Russian River Chardonnay is lovely and light (my companion’s choice) but when I try out the Bourgogne, I am sold straight away.  The 2011 Michelot is exquisite with a fragrant bouquet and full bodied flavour.

Neil Ferguson is executive chef and his menus are influenced by local flavours and seafood which  include European touches like truffle oil, foiegras and brioche.  His early training was in England but then he spent a year in Burgundy at Marc Meneau‘s three-Michelin star L’Esperance.  There was a further year at the three-Michelin star L’Arpege in Paris with Alain Passard, a mentor he holds in high regard.  These influences are evident in his cooking.

Fresh salad ©GalleyBeachRestaurant
Fresh salad ©GalleyBeachRestaurant

I dig into the rest of the meal in earnest, starting with a staple of this region, New England clam chowder.  Very creamy and incredibly delicious.  My companion’s Roasted Beet Root Salad was made up of Strachiatella cheese, orange segments, mache and lemon-fennel puree. Unique, fresh and tasty.

Cod Filet at Galley Beach Restaurant
Cod Filet – image Galley Beach Restaurant

By now the restaurant is full and buzzing.  Our main courses are just as good as the appetizers.  The Filet Mignon is exquisite and perfectly cooked.  My cod fillet is firm, fresh yet tender as well.  The leek puree and fingerling potatoes are a perfect accompaniment and the truffled vinagarette adds a bit of something extra in the dusky flavour department.

 

Strawberry Cheesecake at Galley Beach Restaurant
Strawberry Cheesecake at Galley Beach Restaurant

 

But perhaps my favourite dish of the night was the scrummy Strawberry Shortcake Crumble.  The rich shortcake was just the right size portion to end the meal and the fresh ice cream and gorgeous strawberries set it off beautifully. Decadent is the proper word to describe this treat.

Fine dining is all the rage on Nantucket and there are many eateries to choose from, but this tucked away gem needs to be tried.  It stands on its own as a gastronomic delight.

Click here for information about Galley Beach
Click here for further information about Nantucket and New England

Istanbul First Impression: Sights, Sounds and Colours

My first visit to Istanbul is a breath-taking experience. For all the right reasons.

Fountains in front of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Fountains in front of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Sailing up the Sea of Marmara in the early morning light, the verdant hills of the Sultanahmet start sliding into view.  I squint against the brightness and scan the horizon with intent.  Then it appears. The glistening dome of the Blue Mosque catches my eye and I experience a quick intake of breath.  Though it doesn’t look as blue as I imagined, it is a striking and awe-inspiring structure even from this distance.  Quickly, all sorts of minarets and spires come into sight reaching up beseechingly to the sky.  It is not long before the Golden Horn is before us spilling out into the sea.  More of the city appears as we get closer and closer to our dock.

Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet from the Sea of Marmara.
Hagia Sofia and Sultanahmet from the Sea of Marmara.

 

The European side of Istanbul is where the old town and historic buildings lie.  The Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque are virtually all within yards of each other with the Grand Bazaar less than a mile away.  The Sultanahmet attracts tourists by their thousands, if not millions.  I cannot wait to get my walking shoes on and explore this enchanting city.

 
On approach to the Golden Horn, an enormous Turkish flag.
On approach to the Golden Horn, an enormous Turkish flag.

 

The Bosphorus suspension bridge between Europe and Asia
The Bosphorus suspension bridge between Europe and Asia

And soon the incredible Bosphorus Suspension Bridge is in sight, with its striking design based on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  To think this one structure connects the European and Asian continents has captured the imagination of the world.

We disembark to start our Istanbul adventure. Strolling through the non-descript Karaköy neighbourhood with its office blocks and utilitarian shops, we soon reach the old Galata Bridge that spans the Golden Horn.  Water now comes into view and we begin to traverse the bridge.  Lining the edges are local fisherman – I look down and can clearly see dozens and dozens of jelly fish, their iridescent shapes spookily floating about in the clear water.

 

Fisherman on Galata Bridge © pymphotography
Fisherman on Galata Bridge © pymphotography

 

As soon as we are midway across, we notice stairs going down to another, lower level.  Just above the water is another section of the bridge.  Here there are restaurants and tea houses getting ready for their first customers.  We settle in and have a Turkish tea.

Emerging back up to the road level, we make our way past the buckets of bait and fishing lines towards the Eminönü section of town.  This bustling recreational zone near the water is full of families buying treats and walking along the promenade and enjoying the cool yet sunny morning.

Colourful goods for sale in Grand Bazaar
Colourful goods for sale in the Grand Bazaar

As we walk up the hill towards the Fatih district, we pass vast numbers of stationers and wedding invitation shops.  Soon signs appear to direct us to the Grand Bazaar.

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar
Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

I don’t think anything can quite prepare you for this incredible structure with its ancient warren of walkways and wonderful shops.  Building began in 1455 at the beginning of the reign of the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Constantinople .  They say that the rituals around bartering began at the same time as the construction of the bazaar and are still thriving to this day.

Entrance to Grand Bazaar © panoramio.com
Entrance to Grand Bazaar © panoramio.com

We have arrived quite early, so the bazaar is bustling but not too busy.  I am amazed at how wide the main isle is the takes you through the centre of this shopping mecca.  The designs and décor above our heads are striking and colourful.  And, of course, there are dozens and dozens of pashmina, souvenir and jewellery shops. There are upmarket luggage, watch and leather outlets as well.  I even spot children’s toy shops and eateries offering Turkish snacks.

 

Pashminas in Kapali Carsi
Pashminas in Kapali Carsi

 

I will be buying pashminas today for various relatives who have asked for them.  I make my first attempt at bargaining, to the amusement of my husband.  There is astonishment from the vendor as I offer half of the price he is quoting.  I move on to the next shop as my husband is giggling at my efforts.  This does not stand me in good stead with the vendor.

Ceiling of the Grand Bazaar
Ceiling of the Grand Bazaar

 

We approach another shop and I am soon ushered inside by a friendly attendant. I quickly discover that there are many suitable shawls and scarves here.  Once hubby and I start discussing the various options for different people (with the salesman dutifully pulling out shawls for us to look at) I know my bartering position won’t be very strong.  I have shown too much interest!

But we happily part with our money on finding three pashminas which are just the colours needed.

It is soon time to have a bit of lunch.  I leave the bazaar not having experienced it thoroughly or having done nearly enough shopping.   But we soon discover a local restaurant that makes the best spicy lentil soup I have ever tasted.  The waiter seems very impressed when we attempt a few words in Turkish.  Everyone is pleased!

Turkish food.
Turkish food.

There will be another blog about our discoveries in Sultanahmet and also a previous cookery experience in Kuşadasi.  Watch this space!

I travelled on the ship Azamara Quest on an Eastern Mediterranean itinerary.

A Quantum leap takes place in cruising

A quantum leap in cruising will take place when RCCL’s Quantum of the Seas launches this autumn.

Being lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the new ship, Quantum of the Seas, at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg was something I wouldn’t necessarily have expected.  The new SMART ship technology might have been something that was under wraps (and if it all does work – and my money is on it working – it will make a real ‘splash’).  But perhaps even more entertaining was getting the opportunity to speak to Richard Fain, the CEO of the cruise line, himself.

Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, leads our tour of Quantum of the Seas
Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, leads our tour of Quantum of the Seas

To get the low down from the man at the top about all this new SMART technology on board was pretty special.

But as Richard also said, “Boys like their toys and this is one big toy I get to enjoy”.

Richard enjoys the dodgem car at the new Sea Plex
Richard enjoys the dodgem car at the new Sea Plex

Richard also explained that bookings are on the increase for the cruise line, with Quantum of the Seas and the next ship in line to be launched, Anthem of the Seas,  already securing 150,000 reservations.

The new SMART technology is all about a unique partnership with a company that makes masts for mobile phones named O3B (the other 3 billion – presumably those who do not .  Only this company has now branched out into satellites.  In total, there will be eight satellites that will give Quantum of the Seas, and then the entire fleet, virtually unlimited bandwidth for use by crew, passengers and the ship.

What does this mean?

  • Luggage can be tracked with your smart phone
  • Shows, speciality restaurants, spa treatments can be booked on line with your Cruise Planner
  • Documentation is all organised on-line so no check in queues when boarding.  Passengers can upload their own security photo, and receive digital boarding confirmations
  • Cabin doors will be opened with a wrist band. RFID WOWband wristbands, which require only a simple tap to quickly navigate the ship, make onboard purchases and serve as the room key
  • Two70° is a multi-level hang-out which will have virtual bands and musicians, as well as 270-degree panoramic sea views.

But some of the touches I like are, for instance, the virtual balconies designed for all the 375 inside state rooms.  They really do look realistic but are projected images from cameras based around the ship.  Cool!

Is it the Bahamas?  No, its a virtual balcony for an inside stateroom
Is it the Bahamas? No, its a virtual balcony for an inside stateroom

 

And, just for fun, they will have North Star.  This apparatus looks like a glass pod extracted from the London Eye and then put on a huge mechanical arm.  The pod will suspend guests 300 ft. above the ship and even out over the ocean.  Can’t wait to try that one!

Quantum of the Seas with North Star arm protruding
Quantum of the Seas with North Star arm protruding

 

Digital sculpture suspended from the ceiling
Digital sculpture suspended from the ceiling

And the first sky diving experience at sea, RipCord by ifly, is going to be a real hit with children and adventurous adults.  These simulators are already operating in Orlando but Quantum of the Seas will be the first ship to have anything like this.

Josh explaining the new RipCord by ifly sky dive simulator
Josh explaining the new RipCord by ifly sky dive simulator
The RipCord by ifly tube is ready for skydivers
The RipCord by ifly tube is ready for skydivers

 

But maybe the best idea of all is to have robotic bartenders at a Bionic Bar.  I didn’t get to see this feature but I can only imagine it will be a great addition to this Bionic ship!

Bionic Bar with Robot bartenders. Image provided by RCCL
Bionic Bar with Robot bartenders. Image provided by RCCL

With SMART Technology,  Bionic Bartenders, Virtual Musicians, bandwidth that allows you to stream your favourite films on your lap top, there will be a whole lot of on board tech going on.

To book go on line or contact your travel agent: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

 

 

The Rib Room serves it up spicy

Gleneagles and the Rib Room have something in common. The Ryder Cup.  

The spicy 'Suarez' was invented during the World Cup
The spicy ‘Suarez’ was invented during the World Cup

Although Gleneagles has the real deal, the Rib Room in Knightsbridge is not far behind with its very own Ryder Cup cocktail.  Currently under wraps, all will be revealed in a few days time.

I have never been to the Rib Room in the Jumeirah Hotel on Sloane Street. This time of year there are mainly wealthy middle easterners inhabiting the exclusive shops of this neighbourhood and a fair few of those are staying at this very nice hotel.

A barman at the Rib Room doing his thing
A barman at the Rib Room doing his thing

As I plop down in the cool darkened space, I have a quick look around. Glamorous but understated décor in dark wood, the Rib Room has an elegant dining area and has an astonishingly long bar.  The serving staff are impeccably dressed and assist me immediately.  In fact, it is such a beautiful day, I decide to move outdoors.  So far, so good.

This is the dessert plate being served at the Rib Room. Decadent.
This is the dessert plate being served at the Rib Room. Decadent.

Before trying something from the Rib Room’s wine list, I decide to slurp on a Suarez (created to go along with the World Cup festivities in June).  Meaty and spicy (with a ‘bite’?) I imagine it reflects this football player quite well!  A great drink for first thing in the morning…as an option other than a Bloody Mary.

Rib Room - bar - gin 01

Moving on, I tried the Rib Room’s wonderful Viognier which is a reasonable £8 a glass.  It had a delightful bouquet and was a smooth, creamy yet fruity white.  It was hard to make a choice from their list of over four hundred and fifty wines and champagnes on offer.

Cool cocktails at the Rib Room.
Cool cocktails at the Rib Room.

The Rib Room also has dozens of gin and bitters combinations and quite a few themed drinks as well.  The Drinking with Dickens includes the following offerings in honour of Mr Dickens visit to the U.S. in 1842 where he tried the American Invention:

Poison of choice at £15
While you wait Martin Miller’s Gin, Earl Grey syrup, Yellow Chartreuse. Made to make lose track of time. Served up
Help yourself Appleton Rum, Damson Gin, Crème de Cacao, Chocolate Bitters, Lemon Juice & Egg White. Tempting and refreshing rum sour twist. Served on the rocks
For love o’ liquor Patron XO Coffee, Baileys, Galliano, Coconut Cream. A creamy after-dinner indulgence. Served up
Just one more Bacardi White, Peach Liquor, Lemon Juice, Fresh Grapes and Sauvignon Blanc A sophisticated peach scented aperitif. Served up
The Venus Bombay Gin, Deviation Sweet Wine, Jasmine Tea, Elderflower Cordial, Peach Bitters A winning composition to stimulate the senses. Served up

One of my party tried the Adnam’s Cooper gin with lavender bitters on the rocks.  Very fragrant and you could definitely taste the lavender.  A bit like drinking perfume.  Slightly pricey at £16 but at least it is different.  I also tried one of the virgin cocktails; the Scented Cranberry Martini with
Cranberry juice, vanilla, citrus, orange flower water.  Simple and refreshing on a hot, summers’ day.

We also had the dessert platter.  Utterly divine!

The Rib Room Bar opening hours are:
11am to 12.30am (Mon-Sat)
12pm to 10.30pm (Sun & Bank Holidays)

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant, Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Cadogan Place, London, SW1X 9PY

 

 

Sao Joao, Porto and the Do’uro River

Sao Joao fireworks in Porto from the Do'uro River.
Sao Joao fireworks in Porto from the Do’uro River.

“Look!” I shriek.  “The fireworks are flowing over the bridge like water!”  Bang, kerpow, splash!  This pyrotechnic display is not only colourful but very, very loud.

I had never seen such a spectacular fireworks display as the one I experienced in Porto to celebrate the festival of Sao Joao.  I couldn’t have had a better view point than being on board the MS Infante D’Enrique river vessel on the Do’uro River, jostling alongside all sorts of other fishing boats.

Do'uro River at night.
Do’uro River at night.

I was sailing with tour operator CroisiEurope on the Do’uro River 8 day itinerary and, by chance, the cruise began on the day of the famous St. John the Baptist Festival (23 June).  The festivities start at sundown with locals setting up long tables for sardine and pork dinners…all washed down with beer or wine.  It is an old medieval festival that has been going on for six hundred years but the partying is bang up to date…including massive tents with singers and bands lining the banks of the river.  And all ending with an enormous firework display.

View from the Mateus House in Vila Real
View from the Mateus House in Vila Real

Porto is a spectacular city during the day as well as at night, boasting ancient neighbourhoods full of narrow streets juxtaposed with enormous monuments, castles and cathedrals.  Cross over the spectacular Ponte D. Luis I (bridge) to the other side of the river for wineries and eateries, all offering the very famous Port wine made from the varietals that have been produced here for centuries.  In fact, the Do’uro River Valley, is the oldest wine appellation in the entire world.  And the city of Porto, along with the terraced vineyards all along the river were named an UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.

View from the Do'uro River
View from the Do’uro River

Two of the favourite places we visited along the Do’uro River was the Mateus House and Vila Real.  Vila Real is tiny, but interesting, and was the seat of a region that had many palatial manor houses. The manicured, landscaped gardens of the Mateus House were some of the more beautiful I have seen.  The orchards and vineyards were wonderful as well.

Two new friends, Cushla and Paul from New Zealand, exploring the manicured gardens of Mateus House
Two new friends, Cushla and Paul from New Zealand, exploring the manicured gardens of Mateus House

While in Vila Real my husband and I tried a pastry made from egg yolk in the shape of a rooster’s comb! I think it was named ovos moles.  Many of the country’s typical pastries were created in the monasteries during the Medieval period by nuns and monks and sold as a means of supplementing their incomes. The main ingredient for these pastries was egg yolks. Is it true that the medieval nuns used vast quantities of egg whites to stiffen their habits? If true, and not just myth, they may have then developed endless dessert recipes to use all those surplus yolks. The names of these desserts are usually related to monastic life or to the Catholic faith such as barriga de freira (nun’s belly), papos de anjo (angel’s chests), and toucinho do céu (bacon from heaven).

ovos moles, a dessert created and exclusively sold in Vila Real
ovos moles, a dessert created and exclusively sold in Vila Real

 

River cruise ship Infant D'Enrique
River cruise ship Infant D’Enrique

But the terraced vineyards are spectacular to view as you travel up the river.  I would thoroughly recommend a Do’uro River cruise especially for those with any interest in wine and history.

The River Do'uro
The River Do’uro

For more information www.visitportugal.com

To learn more about CroisiEurope river cruises visit www.croisieurope.co.uk

 

 

Fundamental Fjords

There is almost nothing more inspiring than Norway’s towering mountains and jaw droppingly spectacular fjords.

Mountains near Molde in Møre og Romsdal County, Norway
Mountains near Molde in Møre og Romsdal County, Norway

Here are a few photos that might tempt you into visiting this rugged Nordic country with its staggeringly gorgeous scenery.

1)  Molde is the gateway to the Troll Mountains.  We travelled on the famous Rauma Railroad and saw incredible scenery.

Waterfall in Romsdalen Valley on the way to Troll Mountains.
Waterfall in Romsdalen Valley on the way to Troll Mountains.

 

Rauma Railway © NSB
Rauma Railway © NSB

 

2)      Lysefjord.  Taking a small craft, motor out from the historic town of Stavanger through Lysefjord, to view the Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) from below.  The day I was there, mountain goats were clambering on the steep hillsides as well.

Pulpit Rock in Lysefjord.
Pulpit Rock in Lysefjord.

 

Mountain goats in Lysefjord.
Mountain goats in Lysefjord.

 

3)    Bergen.  One of the most called at cruise ports in Europe, old Bergen, with its fish market and ancient wooden buildings, is atmospheric and intriguing.  Definitely take the cable car to the top for spectacular views.

 

Bergen's Old Town
Bergen’s Old Town

 

Old styled Norwegian carriage, Bergen
Old styled Norwegian carriage, Bergen

 

View from Grieg's House, Bergen
View from Grieg’s House, Bergen

 

4)    Flåm.  This tiny harbour at the mouth of the Aurlandfjord fjord is most known for its world renowned railway.  This engineering marvel travels up to Myrdal station at the top of the mountain, passing Voss waterfall on the way, and, ultimately, connecting with Oslo.

View of Flåm from the railway.
View of Flåm from the railway.
Voss Waterfall, on railway from Myrdal Station
Voss Waterfall, on railway from Myrdal Station

5)      Stalheim Hotel for panorama views of Nærøydalen.  Over one hundred years old, the panoramic views from the Stalheim Hotel are spectacular.  Only a half hour drive from Flåm, the hairpin turns on the road from the hotel down to Nærøydalen valley below are death defying. 

View from Stalheim Hotel near Flam.
View from Stalheim Hotel near Flam.

 

6)      Tysfjord and Vestfjord and Lofoten Islands.  Every autumn the killer whales and herring swim up the Tysfjord and Vestfjord.  Nature safaris are organised to see this annual event. The Lofotr Viking Museum at Borg is not to be missed.  You can take a short cruise on an historic Viking long boat as well as seeing a recreation of a Viking longhouse.

 

Ancient church, Leknes.
Ancient church, Leknes.

 

 

Wooden carved figure, Viking Museum.
Wooden carved figure, Viking Museum.

 

 7)      Lofoten is known for the old fishermen’s cabins (rorbuer) that have been restored and turned into modern accommodation for travellers.

 

Rorbeur. Fishermen's cabins are now accommodation.
Rorbeur. Fishermen’s cabins are now accommodation.

 

8)      Nordkapp.  By cruise ship, you will call at Honnigsvej and then take a coach to the northern most tip of the European Land mass.  You will see reindeer and Sami up here.

 

Nordkapp.
Nordkapp.

 

8)      Kvaløya (the whale island) for VillmarkssenterTove Sørensen’s centre for huskies is a must visit.  There are about 300 dogs raised here exclusively for sledding. 

Huskie at Villmarkssenter
Huskie at Villmarkssenter

 

Sledding, Villmarkssenter
Sledding, Villmarkssenter

 

The Roaming Scribe’s trip to the Arctic Circle was sponsored by Fred. Olsen Cruise Line.

Head to Café Football for the World Cup

Bring on the grub! Café Football in Stratford's Westfield Mall.
Bring on the grub! Café Football in Stratford’s Westfield Mall.

Café Football opened last December in Stratford’s Westfield Shopping Mall and offers football terrace food – but with a difference.  Owners Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have brought in chef and restaurateur, Michael Wignall, to turn football grub into gastro pub fare.

Menus at Café Football organise food into the shape of football formations, there is a display of Ryan Giggs’ boots and lots of kitsch football slogans thrown in for good measure.  Desserts include the pistachio-garnished Chocolate Turf, and Wignall’s Half Time Orange – which is citrus parfait, orange jelly and butterscotch sauce.

Main courses have equally kitschy names. The Wizard Burger is lamb with harissa sauce, while The Special One is a grilled chicken burger with goats cheese.  Side orders are suitably good including very flavoursome chunky chips.  For something more unusual try the Asian slaw,  while the green beans get a thumbs up from me.

Bruno, our waiter, is just one of the enthusiastic staff at Café Football.  Julia in the Sweet Shop is equally excited to explain all about her goodies.  I order a scrumptious caramel salted ice cream and a dark chocolate sorbet with a shot of plantation rum for hubby. Decadent!

Café Football wants to be known as a restaurant, not a sports bar.  And you might be fooled by the interior as there are so many TV screens inside.  But, none the less, it is a great night out and you can wash down your grub with beer or with a very decent bottle of California Viognier.

Wash down your grub with an excellent California Viognier.
Wash down your grub with an excellent California Viognier.

So get booking quick for the World Cup!  See you there.

Café  Football, The Street Westfield Stratford City London E20 1EN

Venue phone: 020 8702 2590

 

The Keys come up trumps

After eight days in the Florida Keys visiting Key Largo,  Islamorada and Key West, I took a few images to capture the mood and magic of this unique marine and island destination.

Tortuga Jack takes me on a backcountry mangrove kayaking tour.
Tortuga Jack takes me on a backcountry mangrove kayaking tour.

 

Deep Sea Fishing off of Islamorada. Beautiful fish caught include this Wrasse.
Deep Sea Fishing off of Islamorada. Beautiful fish caught include this Wrasse.
Ernest Hemingway's writing studio in Key West.
Ernest Hemingway’s writing studio in Key West.

 

 

The Whistle Bar and Bull Bar in Key West.
The Whistle Bar and Bull Bar in Key West.

 

The waterways of Key Largo
The waterways of Key Largo

 

Here comes the African Queen. The original vessel from the Oscar winning movie.
Here comes the African Queen. The original vessel from the Oscar winning movie.

 

On a sunset cruise in Key West
On a sunset cruise in Key West

 

Pelicans at Robbie's Marina, Islamorada.
Pelicans at Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada.

 

Birthplace of Pan-American Airways. First flights were to Havana, Cuba.
Birthplace of Pan-American Airways in Key West.  First flights were to Havana, Cuba.

 

Sunset on historic seafront, Key West.
Sunset on historic seafront, Key West.

 

Half Shell Raw Bar, great sports bar and restaurant on the historic Key West waterfront
Half Shell Raw Bar, great sports bar and restaurant on the historic Key West waterfront

 

Cypress House Hotel in Key West. An historic Bahamian Conch House.
Cypress House Hotel in Key West. An historic Bahamian Conch House.

 

Key West's Lighthouse
Key West’s Lighthouse

 

Robert the Doll on the Ghosts and Gravestones Frightseeing Tour.
Robert the Doll on the Ghosts and Gravestones Frightseeing Tour.

 

South Beach Miami’s Latin Food Scene

Bolivar Fusion Restaurant Cocinas & Tragos
Bolivar Fusion Restaurant Cocinas & Tragos

Ricky, originally from Panama and representing Miami Culinary Tours, took me and two couples out to experience some fantastic South American cuisine at his favourite haunts around town.

A little refreshment and Repajo.
A little refreshment and Repajo.

Stopping first at Bolivar Fusion Restaurant Cocinas & Tragos (661 Washington Avenue) we sipped a Colombian ‘Repajo’, a mix of soft drink and Aquila beer used as a hangover cure.  We then tried an exceptional cerviche, which uses lime to ‘cook’ the Sway (white fish).  I particularly enjoyed the delicious fried empanada accompaniment.  Leaving fusion behind, we popped into the corner patisserie for a wonderful, decadent churro.   Think doughnut, but the Latin version.

Cerviche and Fried Empanadas
Cerviche and Fried Empanadas

It was then onto the beach to try more culinary gems and enjoy walking along Ocean Drive right next to the sand.  South Beach was built during the 1930’s and many of the surviving Art Deco buildings have been preserved and are on the National Register of Historic Places.  The only change is that many of them have been painted in pastel colours called Tropical Deco.  South Beach was the ‘American Riviera’ during the 1950’s and Jackie Gleason kept interest in the town going with his weekly show broadcast from here, the ‘Sun and Fun Capital of the World’, a phrase he coined himself.  After that the area went into serious decline and it has taken many decades to bring it back to life.

Beach off of Ocean Drive
Beach off of Ocean Drive

Polo Norte Cuban Restaurant was our next stop where we tried strong Cuban coffee (Colada).  Similar to espresso but already sweetened, it is a big favourite among the locals.  We were served appetisers of Fried Plantains dressed in a Mojo Sauce.  This was before the main course which was baked plantains with shredded pork and Chimichurri Sauce.   I will come back to this restaurant for more of this lovely carnitas dish. 

Fried Plantains
Fried Plantains

We sniffed around the wonderful smelling family owned Charlotte Bakery which was started in Santiago, Chile in the 1960s by Gladys Jofre. It then moved to Venezuela and ended up in South Beach Miami in the 1990s much to the delight of the neighbourhood.  Everything here is handmade and freshly baked and their empanadas are one of the shop’s favourite items.

Pastries at Charlotte Bakery
Pastries at Charlotte Bakery

Across the street from Española Way is BLOCK Pizza which claims to use a sourdough that began 300 years ago in Sardinia.  The sourdough or Mother Dough comes from the Italian phrase ‘Pasta Madre’.  All of BLOCK Pizza’s dough is taken from the original dough that is fed every day.  The family who run BLOCK Pizza have carried on this tradition and took the oath to care for the dough and use it wisely.

Milani Gelateria
Milani Gelateria

The tour is topped off with real Italian gelato from Milani Gelateria on 436 Española Way. Lower in fat than ice cream and not frozen, it is a superior alternative to the dairy variety.

What a treat to have an insider’s view of the fabulous Latin culinary scene in South Beach.  I can’t wait to go again.

Culinary tour offered by Miami Culinary Tours.  Cost: £35.

For information about Miami’s Beaches visit:  http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/

The Cadet Hotel on James Street offers accommodation from $199 on a room only basis.

 

Made to Order – Key Largo

Florida Manatees © emol.com
Florida Manatees © emol.com

‘Watch out for Manatees’ says the sign next to the balcony  where I am having lunch.  I am eating at Made to Order and am perched on the edge of a canal network where folks are lazily paddle boarding and kayaking. To be surrounded by heat, palm trees, mangroves, water and boats is nothing short of awe inspiring, especially after coming from grey, rainy London.

Pelican's at Robbie's Marina, Islamorada, Florida Keys
Pelican’s at Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada, Florida Keys

The restaurant next to a non-descript Inn is in Tavernier, just south of Key Largo. The main highway running through all the Florida Keys is bordered by trees, often blocking views of the water.  But as soon as you are off the tarmac and going out toward the ocean or bay sides of this strip of road, you are rewarded with beautiful mangrove ‘swamps’ and intricate waterways.  It is simply breath-taking.

Highway US 1 over Indian Key Channel, Florida Keys
Highway US 1 over Indian Key Channel, Florida Keys

 

View from deck at Sundowners Restaurant
View from deck at Sundowners Restaurant, Key Largo

Have also had a fantastic evening meal featuring ‘Hemingway style’ Hogfish (cooked with Japanese breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese coating) and a terrific clam chowder at Sundowners  in Key Largo.  With a deck overhanging the bay, it is truly a stunning setting to watch the sunset.  Hence the name!  As I grab my camera to photograph the scene from my perch right on the edge of the water, I freely admit the card has been taken out to process other photos.  The picture above is from the Sundowners home page.

Garden of Bay Harbor Lodge
Garden of Bay Harbor Lodge

I guess because I grew up in a southerly part of the United States, California, my parents were never interested in taking us to another southerly place.  Perhaps because we had moved from Canada in the late 1950’s, the timing had something to do with it.  My mother, in particular, was horrified at reports of lynchings taking place in the South.  I still remember her talking about it.  That might be a big reason why we never visited Florida.

Its a shame because it is the perfect spot for a family holiday.  Incredibly safe (no one locks their doors) with many hotels that are peaceful and secluded.

Find out more about the Florida Keys and the Bay Harbor Lodge