Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


In which I go to Crete. Part 3: Rethymnon

Rethymnon (2)

It’s a few weeks since I got back from Crete but since then I have been trying to recreate some of the flavours I experienced there. It’s not so easy to track down Cretan wine in London, but having discovered a rather delicious wine from Peza in the local Oddbins and coupled it with a home made filo pastry, spinach and feta pie, today I’ve come reasonably close!

There was much eating and wine drinking in Rethymnon too. It’s a busy old town but small enough to get around comfortably on foot. It’s also brimming with restaurants. My favourite spot was Raki Ba Raki where I finally found horta, the steamed or boiled cretan greens (or weeds as I’ve seen them described) which are delicious when drowned in olive oil and lemon. The closest similar plant I have found back home is dandelions, so I might have to wait until I go back to try them again. I have read that the greek word for vegetarian is “hortofagos,” which apparently means “weed eater!”

Sitting above the narrrow streets of the old town is the fortress or fortezzo. This Venetian bastion has been around since 1580 and was designed as a place of safety against Ottoman attack. This plan failed in 1646 when the Ottomans besieged the city and the Venetians surrendered. Inside the grounds there is a mosque and an orthodox church, giving testament to the varied history of the island. The views are magnificent from the parapets and it’s easy to see how this spot would be chosen to defend the city behind it.

At the foot of the Fortezza is the Contemporary Art Museum, which has a variety of shows throughout the year.  I wasn’t too engaged with the work by the artist Nikos Viskadourakis that was on display when I was there. Through intensely worked pieces, using a limited acrylic palette of reds, blues, blacks and ochres he explored the myth of Odysseus in Hades – I guess you might need more than a passing aquaintance with book XI of Homer’s Odyssey to really see what was going on. However the building is worth a visit and in the heat of summer the aircon would be delicious.

Walking around it’s easy to see where the Venetians left their mark in other ways. The Rimondi Fountain lies at its heart, providing drinking water for animals and the people alike in times of drought. Equally the old harbour provides a lovely sheltered spot for some people watching, especially after church turns out on a Sunday morning. Despite the touristy air, there’s also a relaxing, homely atmosphere in Rethymnon, which made it a great place to finish my Cretan soujourn.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

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In which I go to Crete. Part 1: Chania.

“I was quite all right on this Cretan coast” ― Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

Along the northern coast of Crete there are three great places for a short trip; Chania (Hania), Rethymnon (Rethymno) and Heraklion (Iraklio). I last went to Crete in the late 90s, so with a few days leave on offer, I booked a flight and took off. First stop: Chania

I had arranged two nights in Chania, but with the afternoon arrival of my oh-so-early Easy Jet flight from Gatwick, most of the first day was spent in planes, trains and automobiles.

Finally opening a more up to date copy of the guide-book (much of my planning had been done using my original 1998 Rough Guide second edition), I decided that in the intervening decades, not that much had changed apart from the switch to euros. Crete is still a place steeped in its own culture and history. As I discovered, Chania has back streets a-plenty that just cry out for a wander and with the help of locals a bus trip took me out-of-town for a delicious treat.

Day 1:

Chania old town is bordered by the Venetian Harbour and the city walls, which date from the fourteenth century. After escaping from the maze of narrow streets around my hotel, a sunset walk out to the lighthouse was a welcome breath of fresh air. It was still quite early in the season but the restaurants were busy with locals, so the food was guaranteed to be good!

Cretan wine was a particularly pleasant surprise – the dry whites and floral muscat blends were a perfect match for the ultra-fresh seafood and local dishes. Sitting by the harbour front eating a simple dish of fava bean and octopus salad was the best way to end a very loooooong day!

Day 2:

Following a tip from the lovely people who ran my hotel, I was in the mood for a bit of adventure. My first stop of the day, however, was the Agora market hall. The building is organised in a cross shape with four equally sized wings and as with all markets everywhere, it’s a mix of everyday essentials and touristy nick nacks. I spent quite a while at the fish stall, mesmerised by the utter freshness of the produce but also the distinctive way that the fishmongers packaged each purchase in a cone of paper.

Market done – now it was time to find the bus and head out to the Venizelos Grave on the Akrotiri peninsular, with the promise of the best cake – EVER.

After many years of backpacking around India and South America, I have always put my faith in the people who run the buses. They generally know where you want to go/be/get off and get on from. As I discovered Crete has a slightly confusing system of stops, often with no little or no evidence that this is the place to wait! More of that later. Getting out to the graves however was relatively simple and after a short walk I found myself in a quiet garden with stunning views across the bay.

The garden surrounds the graves of Eleftherios Venizelos, seven times Prime Minister of Greece and his equally Prime Ministerial son. The trees buzzed with bees and blossom coloured the pathway with pops of pink as I wandered through to my main destination, Koukouvaya.  According to my hotel host this is THE PLACE FOR CAKE. It was just warm enough to be out on the terrace, so I sat here for a while savouring both the polenta walnut cake with ice cream and the view of Chania in the distance, until it was time to get the bus back.

Ha! Not so simple. With no sign of a bus stop in either direction I headed off down the road in the direction of Chania but after several minutes of walking and no apparent stop I began to think I would be walking all the way home! Some backtracking, general enquiries and close observation of a bunch of students eventually located the stop as a portion of unremarkable pavement just off the main roundabout. A number 11 bus soon appeared and whisked me back to the market and the now familiar streets of the old town for a late afternoon wander around the Kastelli area and into the Orthodox Cathedral of Agios Nikolaos.

 

My last night in Chania was spent at Tamam, a favourably reviewed restaurant right next door to my hotel. I have to say I was a little underwhelmed, although my left over courgette and dill fritters were easy to carry out as a snack for the next day. Time now to prepare for the bus journey to my next stop, Heraklion.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

 

 


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Spice up your life!

Tastebuds were tingling this weekend after the fabulous Ginger Jar team treated over thirty supper club aficionados to their sumptuous “spice edit”.

After a break in supper club service, in part due to their move to a new kitchen in Herne Hill, the GJ brigade were on top form as they showed us what can be done with those unused jars of spices cluttering our kitchens.

Each course, which included the star-anise spiced rum cocktail on arrival, featured a signature spice. As the evening kicked off we were treated to lemongrass, garlic and onion seed based canapes, with the crispy guidilla pickles in an onion seed tempura batter voted the favourite, though the crispy artichoke heart with ajo blanco came a very close second.

Once seated for supper we continued on our trip around the world of spices. Pink peppercorn and toasted coconut gave confit king prawns a subtle sweetness with hits of peppery heat. This was followed by a carrot, shallot and coriander based dish, which focused on the fresh flavours of Middle Eastern spicing and ingredients.

The star of the evening was undoubtably the richly dark Mexican ancho chile salsa.  Coating the perfectly cooked steaks (meat and cauliflower) it had a depth of flavour and subtle heat that provided the perfect partner to the accompanying Jerusalem artichokes with nutmeg butter. Our table included two vegetarians so the sharing platter of flat iron steak had extra portions for the four remaining meat eaters – suffice to say they cleared the plate! Dessert kept us down in South America with a light and very pretty tonka bean and vanilla pannacotta with spice roasted apricot coulis, edible flowers and shards of black pepper meringue.

Ordinary spices mixed with ordinary ingredients created a fine dining menu of unique flavours; Ginger Jar supper clubs are always tasty but this was a sure fire way to spice up a not so ordinary friday night in SE24 and maybe inspire a revisit to those spices lurking at the  back of the kitchen cupboard!

Ginger Jar Food: http://www.ginger-jar-food.com/contact/

©Chez l’abeille  2016


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In which I pop over to Paris: friends, food and pharmacies.

For quite a few years I have visited various parts of France with my old friends Mardi and Neil. This year due to various house purchasing shenanigans on their part and writing courses on mine, we have been a bit tight for free time but we finally managed to organise a fun and food filled weekend get together in Paris. Pourquoi Pas?

Friday: I arrived earlier than the others so took advantage of the time and had a walk around the quartier of Montparnasse. Then we regrouped and headed out to Frenchie wine bar in the 2nd, where we got in first, ate our way through most of the menu and were decreed “cool” by our lovely waiter! A full review of the evening was written up here, complete with the pictures of what we ate! Definitely worth a drool over. Curiously it was rammed with English speaking patrons but I guess most of the locals were en congé”. It is August in Paris after all!

Saturday: We strolled out on a rather cool morning after a heavy night’s rain and headed to the Hilton where a display of models “en Lego” was on offer. It also meant we got to use the Hilton toilets as well. Continue reading

Lobsters ready for cooking


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Something fishy going on…

Getting up at 4am is not a normal occurrence at Chez L’abeille, but when you want to see one of London’s historic markets in action it’s essential. I was heading to the Billingsgate Market Seafood Training School to take part in their “morning catch” class, which includes a tour of the market in full action, hence the (very) early start!

Having caught the first tube from Southwark (05.31am, should you need to know) to Canary Wharf, my first impression of the market, as I headed over the bridge towards the main gate, was the smell of very fresh fish. My second impression was just how busy it was at 6am, although because of the upcoming Easter weekend, today was apparently especially busy. Billingsgate is a “free and open” market, which means anyone can go there to buy fish and with 98 stands and 30 shops there’s plenty to buy.

As the rather bleary eyed class gradually assembled, we were sent off to walk around the stalls and buy the fish we would learn how to prepare later. The choice was vast*. There are stalls which focus on mainly British species and others who specialise in the warmer water fishes of the world, ones who only do shellfish or just frozen produce. The boxes of fish are often labelled with their port of origin and I did spot a little bit of Cornwall in a pile of “falfish” boxes. After much deliberation and because a cup of tea beckoned, I decided to go for the rather scary looking gurnard, a fish I wouldn’t normally buy because I know little about how to handle it. More of that later!

The second part of the class was a guided tour of the market and I was lucky to be in the group taken around by Robert, one of the market inspectors – a man who appeared to be hugely respected by the merchants and whose knowledge of all things fish seems to be limitless! Things I learnt from this part of the class: Continue reading


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Ghost signs #1: Milk, bread and tea

I love a bit of current street art, but sometimes you glimpse signs of businesses past, etched into the walls and gable ends around us. I’ve been “collecting” these ghost signs for a while, there are many lurking amongst the older buildings of SE London. In the late 1800’s, as food items became more standardised the use of advertising was important to ensure the public knew about the products.

Daren bread has intrigued me, I have discovered it was a branded whole wheat flour, but is clearly a brand which has disappeared from our lives. Hovis and Liptons tea, on the other hand, are still very much available!

©Chez l’abeille 2015

Ginger jar supper club menu


Back at the chef’s house again!

I was so excited by the fact that I was going to eat back at Chef Jenny Newall’s kitchen again that I forgot my camera. Thank goodness for mobile phones then. However the quality of the pictures may be a bit worse than usual so forgive me. The food, however did not fail to delight.

My appetite had been whetted earlier in the day by teasers on Instagram and twitter – some fabulous looking hazelnut caramel balls appeared to be in preparation. What’s not to like! On arrival we were greeted with a cocktail, delicious canapés and the lovely warm glow of a working kitchen; a pleasant contrast to the damp winter gloom outside.

And so to the food. Napkin folding lesson! The pixie boot

The antipasti was an individual cauliflower, fontina cheese and cavolo nero gratin, with the most delicious roast garlic and pecorino cheese flatbread. I failed to get a decent picture of this, but I can offer the table entertainment in the form of napkin folding art. (I have friends with many talents.)

I did, however, manage to capture the remaining delights of the evening. For the pesce course, I had the balsamic and beetroot cured salmon with blood orange, fennel and winter leaves. The alternative to the salmon was salt baked beetroot. The earthy flavours of the beetroot were perfectly contrasted with the bitter – sweetness of the blood orange, a combination I shall be repeating in my own kitchen.

The secondi course was a treat; a courgette pea and broad-bean ragu with spinach and ricotta gnudi. Now I have become a bit of a gnudi fan recently, after finding a fairly easy recipe in a recent Jamie Oliver cook book. These were light, tasty and far less overpoweringly cheesy than mine. I shall have to consult with the professionals for some tips.

And so to dolci. This was a tirimasu inspired delight of cocoa pastry stacked up with whipped marscapone, a marsala espresso reduction and the long awaited hazelnut caramel balls!  Delicious.

I had brought several friends along with me, who had not been to this supper club before. By the end of the evening serious plans were being made to all go again, which I would say is a sure sign of a successful evening! So here’s to the next one. And this time I won’t forget the camera.

©Chez l’abeille 2015