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Here’s a springlike plate to sharpen people’s appetites – fat, crunchy Kent asparagus, juicy Suffolk tomatoes plus Spanish jamon iberico de bellota. A seasonal delight – but what’s that dodgy-looking dollop on the asparagus? I’ll explain…


Last week a large and mysterious package appeared on my doorstep, carried aloft by my beaming neighbour who had taken in the Fedex delivery (no awards for the courier who didn’t bother to leave me notification). At first I thought the carton might contain wine (obsessively?), Portuguese perhaps – a souvenir from my recent visit to the Minho and Douro? No, said my wise neighbour, it’s not heavy enough. Oh – pity.

The huge sourdough loaf I brought back from Portugal five days ago is only just finished. A sad day indeed, as every slice I savoured reminded me of the bakery where it was made. Now that’s quite a treat in this day and industrialised age.


The bakery was in the unusual village of Provesende, in Portugal’s Douro Valley, famed for its port which the British were responsible for developing and trading. Few places in Europe can rival the rugged majesty of the intricately terraced slopes plunging down to the languorous river below, while quinta (manor-house) after ornate quinta appears between the folds of the valley or high up commanding swathes of vineyards.

Three days of intense gastro activity earlier this week characterised Madrid Fusion, the annual jamboree of roughly 100 international chefs plus armies of sous-chefs and trainees. Although 90% are Spanish. a handful of foreign chefs are invited, this year from the Andean axis (aka Peru, Bolivia and Chile) and from Flanders. Despite these regions being from opposite sides of the world, they showed unexpected similarities – making full use of the `local` (from llama meat to North Sea bycatch) and wild indigenous plants. So does that mean we have reached the end of gastronomic hyperbole?

chef jackets

Here’s a post to prove that it’s not only ‘abroad’ where the culinary buzz is happening. As every Londoner knows, this city is on such a gastro roll that it’s impossible to keep up with new openings, foodie trends and, yes, (g)astronomic prices. What’s more, the scene is truly international. The solution to staying abreast? Just go with the flow, stay ‘local’ (which for me means most of north, central and a slice of east London) and when a press lunch comes up, grab it.


A short burst out of London has just taken me to Madrid. Celestially speaking it was distinctly bluer than London but it seems Iberian clear skies are deceptive, as pollution levels were actually skyhigh. But fear not, I’m not here to write about the weather, more about how the capital’s much hyped tapas scene is faring.

Vi Cool marinated sardines

I’ve mentioned Bar Zeruko before, but here’s an addendum to my ongoing pintxos (aka Basque tapas) investigation in San Sebastian. It’s over 12 years since I wrote New Tapas in which I featured the (then) newly opened, ground-breaking Cuchara de San Telmo which subsequently shot to fame. You can read my far more recent reports on San Sebastian’s gastro-delights in this blog as well as a lengthier round-up of avant-garde bars which I wrote for the Guardian. A couple of weeks ago I was back, on this visit with time for a detailed appraisal of Bar Zeruko, without forgetting old favourites like Borda Berri, Casa Gandarias and A Fuego Negro.

Now here’s a hotel with a view. Even better it comes with a non-stop lullaby of waves, the ebb and flow of the Bay of Biscay or Cantabrian Sea. Location? Getaria, in Spain’s Basque Country, on the hilly, indented coastline that stretches 90km from Bilbao to San Sebastian. With spectacular panoramas, pretty little ports and one or two eye-sores, this costa is surprisingly little visited by non-Spaniards despite the fact that in the verdant hills to the west is the town of Gernika (Guernica), rendered tragically historic and iconic (hate to use that word) by Picasso after bombing by Franco and his fascist allies in 1937. Even more persuasive are Bilbao’s Guggenheim and airport as well as, half an hour’s drive in the other direction, the intoxicating gastro-hub of San Sebastian that I’ve covered before before and here.

Who would have guessed it, the far-flung Aussie city of Melbourne claims the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. I certainly became convinced a week or so ago while staying in the heart of said Chinatown, in Little Bourke Street. Exit the cossetting yet funky Ovolo hotel, look left, and there’s a sea of ideograms, banners and red lanterns, with a few pagoda-style arches thrown in. Not least, the aromas matched the view, 24/7. I was in gastro-heaven, even more so when it turned out my visit coincided with the Asian Food Festival – so Spring rolls (according to the downunder seasons at least), pedicabs and all.

When in Lisbon recently, I was amazed at how spruce the city was looking despite all the doom and gloom reports in the press. Contrary to expectations, the Portuguese capital has dozens more riverside haunts, sharp new museums and hipsters pouring into the Cais do Sodré area and the extraordinary LX Factory. Luckily old-time Lisbon is there too, with its touchingly quaint buildings, decorative azulejos and creaking old trams. I was delighted to find the city in such good form, hot and sultry too but with that invigorating Atlantic breeze. Here an old boy laps it up at the top of the Alfama district.

The pic below shows Cordoba’s deserted streets a few days ago at around 5pm and 42° – only mad dogs & one English woman, me, ventured out in the searing heat. However it’s not only temperatures that are hotting up there right now. Later, and only marginally cooler, I staggered through the former Moorish labyrinth to reach the Mercado Victoria – the latest ‘hot’ venue in Cordoba’s fantastic gastro offerings. This I eventually reached after two energising halts, one for a cooling granizado and one for a chilled fino.