Fusterland: A photo essay

Any visit to Havana is not complete without a visit to Fusterland, the home and studio of Jose Fuster. Having moved to the small town of Jaimanitas 30 years ago to set up his studio in this Havana suburb he has slowly created a living art gallery that no longer can be contained inside his own home but has spilled out onto the street.

This small fishing town on the outskirts of Havana has embraced the imagination of Fuster and over 80 of his neighbours have allowed him to decorate their homes with his paintings, mosaics and sculptures. As you walk around the streets they are filled with colour. Its stunning. Each painted tile or mosaic is different, everything coming out of one mans imagination.

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster's House

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster’s House

Cowboy

Cowboy

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Fusterland

Mojito anyone?

Fusterland Fusterland

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster's house.

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster’s house.

Fusterland

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Fusterland

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

Fusterland Fusterland Fusterland

This is one of the most stunning art galleries I have had the privilege of visiting. It’s so inclusive, everyone is welcome and that is what Fuster wants, art for all and not just those who can visit galleries or collect art.

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba!

The streets are alive with music! It’s everywhere, from the bands playing in cafes, the busker with his saxophone on a stoop to the radio playing in someone’s car. You cannot escape the musical beat that pumps its way around Cuba. This is an island full of life, soul and music, and you just do not want to leave.

Music everywhere!

Music everywhere!

Walking around Old Havana is like walking around a time capsule, the architecture, and the cobbled streets and of course the 50’s cars. It’s a city that exudes life. With the streets being narrow you find very few cars in and around the old squares which adds a tranquility to your wandering. One thing I found surprising about Havana and Cuba in general is their attitude to tourists, they are friendly and will ask you to look in their shop as you pass but there is no hassle, life just goes on in Havana. You would never think you are in one of the most visited destinations in the world. The streets are filled with people going about their business; in fact we are probably an inconvenience to them with tour groups filing through on walking tours. It’s by far one of the most relax capital cities I have ever visited.

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building in Havana

With such architectural variety, from the colonial to the art deco you could wander around for days taking everything in. The amazing thing I found about Havana is, if a city was protected by UNESCO it could almost feel a bit Disney – everything a little too bright and shiny – but it doesn’t. The buildings are crumbling around you, a huge amount of restoration is going on, but people are still living in these buildings and life goes on. This is one of the contradictory things about Cuba and one of things that left me asking more questions. The Old City is protected and there is a huge amount of preservation going on but you have so many people living in these cramped buildings. Yes they are building new housing outside the historic centre but then you are in the suburbs and have to travel in (on highly unreliable public transport). Having all this amazing architecture protected is a privilege and it’s a reason tourist’s love Havana but with houses in need of dire repair how good is it for the actual Cuban people when they are being relocated out of their homes.

The colourful streets of Havana

The colourful streets of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

IMG_6034Havana is a city with so much to see and take in that it can be hard to leave, but leave you must as there is still so much of this country to see. Setting out we headed to Las Terrazas, a community and nature reserve named a biosphere reserve in 1985 by UNESCO. It’s a beautiful place. This community tries to be as self-sustaining as possible and was a dream of Castro’s soon after the revolution when he ordered a reforestation programme due to the heavy deforestation that had been taking place over the centuries. It’s like a small paradise in a bubble, the standard of living here is higher than in much of Cuba but you cannot simply move to Las Terrazas, there is a waiting list as they do not want to over populate the area. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a community working together and by using what they have around them to attract visitors it creates an income for the community. I would certainly not hesitate going back and staying within the community for a short time in their hotel, the Hotel Mako. Leaving the lush green forests we headed further west to the Vinales valley and its stunning karst landscape which is encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome like limestone outcrops (mogotes). The moment you descend into the valley and you get your first view of the mogotes you want to whip out your camera and start taking photos, but resist you must because there will be plenty of opportunity for photos in this photogenic landscape. With much of the land being fertile this is a key tobacco growing region, but also home to more than one organic farm that is striving to promote vegetables and growing your own, something Cubans need to take on board because eating their greens is something they are not doing. If more people grew their own food then they wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on rationing as they would be able to supplement their food much more easily, but with a diet focused on rice, beans and meat getting them to eat their greens may be a long term project for the government. In fact the food at one of these organic farms was the best food I had the entire time we had in Cuba, farm to table in a matter of hours!

Vinales doesn't have a bad angle

Vinales doesn’t have a bad angle

The stunning Vinales

The stunning Vinales

IMG_6124

P1070771

A beautiful organic farm

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

Vinales is one of those places I could have quite happily meandered around for a few days but alas our time there was short and having done a cave tour and tobacco farm visit we had to leave after 2 nights. With the quaint little town full of paladars to try this is definitely somewhere to take your time, rent a bike, go for a walk, explore the valley do not rush it. With the forests and valleys done we headed towards the coast and the colonial town of Cienfuegos, the only town in Cuba to have been settled by French colonists. The long roads, colonnaded walk ways and squares this is a chilled out town. The brightly coloured buildings entice you to explore.

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

From Cienfuegos it’s the perfect opportunity to head into the mountains and to Topes de Collantes National Park. Here you are overwhelmed by the views you get climbing high into the mountains to the dense forest that cover these mountains. There is an abundance of flora and fauna and the birds, oh the birds, if you like birds this is the place to come and look. As someone who isn’t too bothered by twitching, having hummingbirds flutter around you is just breath taking, stunning miniature creatures.

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Disappointingly we had to leave being this landscape and head down to the coast and the beautiful town of Trinidad. This sleepy colonial down a short drive from white sand beaches is an ideal place to settle down for a couple of days. Take in the colourful cobbled streets, enjoy the delicious food of the paladars and take your book down to calm crystal waters of the Caribbean. Trinidad is an ideal place to relax and take in everything you have experienced in Cuba so far.

The colonial square of Trinidad

The colonial square of Trinidad

Cuba

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

IMG_6289Before heading back to the happening city of Havana we headed to Santa Clara, the home of Che. His memorial and mausoleum is the main point for passing through. It dominates. It certainly made me wonder what they have planned for when Fidel dies. It certainly makes you think about the part he played in the revolution, his drive and passions for the communist and socialist movements. He is much more than just a face on a t-shirt that has become a bit of a fashion statement. This is a man who is an idol, a founder of modern Cuba, the respect for this man can be felt as you enter his mausoleum and walk around his memorial. It’s certainly thought provoking. Cuba

The monumental Che

The monumental Che

Arriving back into Havana I scrambled to fit in the last bits of sightseeing but just didn’t have enough time. There are still lots of galleries to explore, streets to wander and bars to try out. Cuba is a country that just keeps on giving, the friendliness of its people, its culture, and the way it makes you think about your perceived thoughts about its politics. There are so many reasons to return to Cuba. I have so many unanswered questions, and things will only keep changing and evolving there, especially if the continuing talks with the USA hold. Hopefully things will not change too quickly for the sake of the people and the islands innocence. Cuba

Roaming about Rome

Going to Rome for me is like going home. It’s a place I have spent years studying its history, getting under the skin of its ruins and ancient citizens and of course it has amazing food. Its been ten years since my last trip to Rome, how it has been so long I have no idea. The last time I was there was while I was at University, we had a three-week study tour and we spent most of it in Rome with a mid way session around the Bay of Naples. In that time we wandered around taking in as much as we could, visiting all the museums and galleries and making random jokes about Cicero that no one else would get – yes I am that much of a Classics Geek!

I think what does it for me with Rome is that everywhere you go there is history. This is a city that grows within itself. So much was buried over the centuries but then other bits were incorporated, buildings built into the side of ancient theatres, all that remains to remind you are the columns protruding out of the back. There are so many layers to this city. Around every corner there is something new… and some new food to try!

Sun setting over the Roman Forum

Sun setting over the Roman Forum

Having been to Rome a few times, I have got to the point where I no longer have to follow the tourist routes, but can go out and explore the periphery of the ancient city. For instance in our flat that we rented (good old Airbnb) we were just around the corner from a vast expanse of Roman wall that I didn’t know existed. Towering above us it just reminded you of the might of this city and the power of those that invaded it eventually. Heading further away from the tourist centre you come across forgotten triumphal arches, tombs of bakers and tiny little excavation sites that have been forgotten now they have been dug up.

Fabulous Roman Walls

Fabulous Roman Walls

the forgotten triumphal arches of an empire long gone

the forgotten triumphal arches of an empire long gone

 

wandering around Rome

wandering around Rome

the Colosseum, what else!

the Colosseum, what else!

Of course there is so much to explore outside of Rome. One of my favourite places is Ostia. Once the port of Rome it is now a ghost town. Lived in long after Pompeii was destroyed this is a perfect example of how a Roman town developed, its architecture and its life. There are examples of two story buildings, fabulous mosaics and rather splendid Baths. It fell into decline as the Roman Empire split and invaders moved south as it was no longer the main port and the people moved away. This ancient town, left to ruin is a remarkable and tranquil place. Wander through its streets, sit in its theatre, explore the forum and the baths and all the time it is peaceful, and surrounded by nature. There are never hoards of tourists, it’s not crowded, sometimes you can wander down two or three streets without seeing anyone – perfect!

Ostia, where nature is coexists with ruins

Ostia, where nature is coexists with ruins

Ostia

Ostia

Of course there is more to Rome than ruins. I have spent many a happy day exploring its museums and art galleries but the thing we end up planning the most is…… the next meal. There is an abundance of choice when it comes to food. Fabulous little hole in the wall pizza place, delicious fresh pasta and fish, and of course the gelato. Being out of the main tourist hub this visit we found ourselves in the student quarter and surrounded by amazing little trattoria serving up fresh home-made food. There is also a problem when it comes to food in Rome (like many big tourist cities) that there are so many tourist traps! Wandering around the Piazza Navona at night ( we thought we would stroll down there to see our old friend the Pantheon) and carried on walking in the search for food. We got to the Piazza and decided to stop, but on looking at the menu we decided it was a no. The prices they were charging for food we had on the other side of Rome were almost double. No thank you! So we walked on a bit and discovered a little place, the waiter was friendly so we thought why not give it a go. The menu was covered in asterisk saying ‘from frozen’ …. how can pasta be from frozen unless it’s a horrid microwave meal! scandalous! You are in Italy how dare you serve something that resembles a microwave meal when fresh pasta takes 2 minutes to cook! We decided very quickly at that point we were staying away from food in the tourist centre and stick to our fabulous local finds! It does make you wonder how many people come to Rome and end up in places like this, over charged for food or with a microwaved dish!

the gorgeous Pantheon

the gorgeous Pantheon

Gelato time!

Gelatto time!

Despite being scared by tourist restaurants this was a fab trip to Rome…. well other than the being thrown from a horse – yes that happened while we decided to go horse riding along the Appian Way. It started so peacefully trotting along looking at funerary monuments until I very quickly hit the ground. EEK!

Riding along the Appian Way

Riding along the Appian Way

Along the Appian Way

Along the Appian Way

Anyway as always Rome was magical. Full of life, history and amazing food. It’s somewhere I will never get tired of visiting, strolling past the Colosseum, sitting on a marble column or eating way too much ice cream for one day. Until next time my darling eternal city!

Chef Particulier Supper Club

It’s a cold Friday night in Stockwell and I am sitting in the basement flat of a gorgeous Georgian town house off the main road running through Stockwell. Why am I here you ask? But for the first supper club of Janos Balint, aka Chef Particulier!

I came to know about Janos and his supper club through my colleague Naomi who is the other half to the lovely Jimmy Garcia and Janos has worked for him. I love the random connections you end up making in London! Anyway, I was told that Janos was doing his first supper club so I felt like I should go along, try it out and support him in his efforts. So here we were in a rather spartan but toasty warm basement flat, 4 tables set for six people apiece and starving.

The Fabulous Menu

The Fabulous Menu

The kitchen team were hard at work when we appeared and being prompt we were some of the first people there. Supper Clubs are always interesting as you never quite know who you are going to be sitting at a table with. It was a mixed crowd. Friends of Janos’, friends of friends, employers and friends of employers. As we sat down, a quick welcome speech from Janos and the wine bottles opened, the very relaxed evening commenced.

The menu for the evening was

A Trip of Canapés

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Mackerel Three Ways

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Seasonal Vegetable Shooter

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Pheasant Salmi with Celeriac Gratin and Roasted Plums

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Citrus Sorbet

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Apple terrine served with Caramel and Chantilly Cream

 

The food itself was delicious. I was personally intrigued by the mackerel as its one of my favourite things and always interested to see what people do with it. The mackerel came in tartar form, as a pate and escabeche. All three were beautiful. I do not normally like tartar but with the Asian twist it was light and full of flavour and I inhaled it!. After a short breather we were served shots of vegetable soup. Always novel!

Mackerel Three Ways

Mackerel Three Ways

The main course is what we were all waiting for, pheasant severed with celeriac gratin and roasted plums. The pheasant was beautiful, moist and full of flavour. It was very well cooked. I would have liked my gratin with a bit more sauce to it but that’s just me being greedy and wanting yummy cream. The gratin itself was lovely, the celeriac perfectly thin and seasoned well.

Pheasant!!

Pheasant!!

Post pheasant and starting to feel rather full came our pallet cleansing citrus sorbet. Light and refreshing it was what was just needed. Having eaten pretty much everything that was put in front of me I was going to struggle with fitting desert in, but I would try. Now I am not the world biggest fan of cooked apple but I did quite enjoy the apple terrine. I like the idea of the apple terrine but both me and my friend agreed we would have preferred it warm rather than cold. The caramel and cream complimented it very well though.

Desert!

Desert!

Overall this was a great dinner by Janos and I am very excited that it will be just the first of many. In fact the second one was a couple of weekends ago but I couldn’t attend. Fingers crossed that the next one falls on an empty date in my diary.

Janos is one to watch, he is all about seasonal food that tastes great. His love of food comes from growing up in a three generation household in a small Hungarian village. His grandmother seems to be the inspiration when you talk to him, her cooking of traditional dishes, simple and seasonable using ingredients from their garden ( including the chickens and rabbits they kept). Janos’ cooking goes back to simplicity, using what is available and seasonal and not trying to use a ridiculous number of ingredients. I like this, its home cooking but with a touch of elegance. I look forward to seeing how these supper clubs develop as the seasons change!

If you like good food and random company then keep an eye out for Chef Particulier’s next supper club as I know it will be good!

Memories of Morocco – a photo essay

The winter is setting in for good here in the UK. It is cold and grey and it is making me think of bright sunny places. Countries that are filled with warmth and colour, places like Morocco! It is such a vibrant and diverse country. Busy, bustling cities, crowded souks, quiet and serene deserts and stunning coastlines. This is a country that can only really be appreciated through the senses, words in my opinion do not do it justice. Therefore I have decided to show you some of my favourite bits of Morocco through some of my favourite photos.

Enjoy! x

Morocco………………………….

Rooftop memories - life on the top of a riad is calm away from the hustle and bustle of the streets below.

Rooftop memories – life on the top of a riad is calm away from the hustle and bustle of the streets below.

Inside the souks you can find many wonderous, and surprising things. I was not expecting a camel head as I turned the corner in the Fez souk

Inside the souks you can find many wonderous, and surprising things. I was not expecting a camel head as I turned the corner in the Fez souk

Life in the Fez Souk remains so unchanged and unburdened by modern life. Donkey's still do quite a lot of the work as the alley ways are too narrow for vehicles.

Life in the Fez Souk remains so unchanged and unburdened by modern life. Donkey’s still do quite a lot of the work as the alley ways are too narrow for vehicles.

The tanneries in Fez continue a way of life that has been going since the Roman age.

The tanneries in Fez continue a way of life that has been going since the Roman age.

Its hard to deny the architecture amazes. The traditional architecture especially in Fez remains so untouched.

Its hard to deny the architecture amazes. The traditional architecture especially in Fez remains so untouched.

As you drive from Marakkesh into the Atlas mountains the scenery changes so much as you get deeper into the mountains and desert. The quiet mountains are a restbite from the chaos of the city

As you drive from Marrakech into the Atlas mountains the scenery changes so much as you get deeper into the mountains and desert. The quiet mountains are a respite from the chaos of the city

Tranquil villages dot the landscape of the Atlas Mountains. Life here like in the old centre of Fez remain quite unchanged over teh centuries.

Tranquil villages dot the landscape of the Atlas Mountains. Life here like in the old centre of Fez remain quite unchanged over teh centuries.

Walking inside Todra Gorge. Walking through the gorge it is beautiful. The colours changing with the sun, the walls towering above you. It just highlights the many faces of Morocco.

Walking inside Todra Gorge. Walking through the gorge it is beautiful. The colours changing with the sun, the walls towering above you. It just highlights the many faces of Morocco.

The desert, its changing sands, dramatic landscape and kalidascope of colours. It is breathtaking standing on the top of a dune as the sun is rising.

The desert, its changing sands, dramatic landscape and kalidascope of colours. It is breathtaking standing on the top of a dune as the sun is rising.

As the sun sets over the desert it creates the most dramatic effects.

As the sun sets over the desert it creates the most dramatic effects.

As the sun sets, things become silent in the desert. Its calming being in the middle of this vast space.

As the sun sets, things become silent in the desert. Its calming being in the middle of this vast space.

Camels, the only way to travel when travelling in the desert!

Camels, the only way to travel when travelling in the desert!

Marakkesh is fantastic chaos, the souks bustling, the roads packed with cars and all converge on Jemaa el Fna, the market square. As day draws to a close and dusk sets in things begin to change, everyone begins to relax as evening sets in.

Marrakech is fantastic chaos, the souks bustling, the roads packed with cars and all converge on Jemaa el Fna, the market square. As day draws to a close and dusk sets in things begin to change, everyone begins to relax as evening sets in.

Jemaa el Fna - music fills the air, the coals of open barbaques fill the air with smoke, people everywhere - this is an evening in Marakesh!

Jemaa el Fna – music fills the air, the coals of open barbaques fill the air with smoke, people everywhere – this is an evening in Marakesh!

Art in unusal places

I was recently invited to the opening of an art residency at a hotel. The hotel was the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in London. The Art Movement, an art consultancy, has taken up residence in the hotel and will in their programme showcase some of the world’s finest contemporary artists within the hotel lobby and Lowndes Bar & Kitchen Restaurant. The first artist being Chuck Elliott. The aim being that guests can view the art and purchase. It’s intended to be a new way of displaying art as an alternative to a gallery. The Art Movement want to demystify the process of acquiring original art.

blast/first/fracturerefract by chuck elliott

Chuck Elliot Blast/FIRST/fractureRefract . Taken from artnet.com

 

I quite like this idea of creating new ‘art galleries’ accessible to people who maybe wouldn’t wander into an art gallery. I like it when art is accessible to all people, I think that is why I am so drawn and interested by graffiti and street art. It’s a way for people to express themselves on an open canvas to a wide audience and get them thinking. Street art is something that I always look for when I am abroad as it gives you another layer to the culture and the people of the country you are in.

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Amazing use of space for art in Soweto

Amazing use of space for art in Soweto

One of my favourite cities for Street Art is Berlin. This is a city rich with art and it has a long history of expressing itself through art – just look at the East Side Gallery – the remnants of the Berlin Wall. It is showcase of politics, oppression, freedom and culture. Its one of my favourite galleries. But along with the wall, the streets and buildings of Berlin are littered with graffiti and art all showing different thoughts and feelings.

Its not only the East Side Gallery that show cases the artistic talents of the city but all surfaces, no matter their height. The sides of apartment buildings are painted to look like gardens, a wall full of sunflowers or words of expression.

Its not only the East Side Gallery that show cases the artistic talents of the city but all surfaces, no matter their height. The sides of apartment buildings are painted to look like gardens, a wall full of sunflowers or words of expression.

The East Side Gallery, the worlds longest open air art gallery.

The East Side Gallery, the worlds longest open air art gallery.

Of course here in London and the UK we are not short of street art. Just look at Banksy, he made a name from creating art, originally on the streets of Bristol, and then further a field. In the eyes of some he is just a graffiti artist or vandal while others are willing to pay millions for an original Banksy. Wandering around Bristol and spotting a Banksy is part of the fun of going to visit the lovely city.

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Here in London of course we are spoilt… yes I am not going to deny it most of the graffiti out there is just tagging and pretty non descript but then you go to somewhere like Shoreditch which is starting to become like a living art gallery, around every corner is an artistic surprise, big and small. I follow quite a few people on Instagram but I particularly like following Anissa Helou as she is always putting up new pieces she finds wandering around Shoreditch – I can admire the art wherever I am thanks to her pictures! The art has become so popular that tours are popping up to show it all off.

Shoreditch art

Shoreditch Street Art

More recently I have been introduced to an art project in Cuba Fusterlandia,created by Jose Fuster, known as the Picasso of the Caribbean. As you enter the Havana suburb you are met by block after block of mosaic creations. It’s a suburb that has been turned into a living art project and encourages the inhabitants to express themselves through their houses, gates and gardens! This is definitely something that I am very excited to explore when I go to Cuba in January!

Stepping away from paint into the world of sculpture there are so many places that are now being used as galleries outside of the norm. I like the idea of sculpture parks, like the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail. Putting a piece of sculpture in the context of nature, where the elements can get to it. Of course this is not art you can buy but it can be appreciated, and your perception and feelings towards it are always going to be different depending on the weather. You are more likely to rush around when its cold and wet than if it was a warm sunny day where you can linger and explore all the aspects of it. Sculpture parks and walks allow you to go back time after time and experience the same things in different ways, something that isn’t really possible in a climate controlled museum or gallery.

P1020881 P1020900There is so much creativity out there that its hard to contain it all within the four walls of an art gallery – of course do not tell that to all those boutique private galleries that fill the streets of London and other cities a like trying to sell the wares of artists. As long as it isn’t hurting anyone I do not see a problem with using new spaces to express yourself through art. I hope to keep seeing art popping up in unusual places. I encourage you to go out and find art in unusal places. Find something and keep going back and see how the elements effect your perceptions of it. Go and explore art – I dare you!

Costa Rica – adventures in Manuel Antonio

Sitting on a white sand beach, the pacific ocean lapping at my feet, all around me is rainforest. The monkey’s play in the trees behind and on a fallen tree sits a stunning blue and green iguana. This is paradise, this is Costa Rica!

It’s a country only the size of Switzerland but is home to a range of ecological systems, countless wildlife species and fabulous white sand beaches. It offers so many reasons to visit.

Having no army means that the country spends its money on education and the environment instead of guns and tanks. This of course makes for a happy and positive population. With 26% of the country National Parks and protected it just reflects how important having 5% of the world’s biodiversity is to them and of course for everyone else its a key reason to visit this fabulous country.

I found myself leaving San Jose for the Central Pacific Coast for Manuel Antonio National Park, which is one of the 28 National Parks and Biological Reserves in the country. Sitting right on the Pacific Coast it’s where rainforest meets beach.

First stop was a mangrove river cruise in Guacalillo. We boarded our boats and before we even moved we were surrounded by the most stunning Scarlett Macaws. Flying above our heads from tree to tree in their pairs the colour of their feathers brightening up the sky. The colours were mesmerising. It always amazes me how the guides manage to spot animals in the forest when travelling at speed on a boat, but spot the guides did. Soon we were gazing upon water walking lizards, monkeys, birds of all kinds and then those giants of the river, the crocodile. Huge creatures just lounging in the sun until they disappear into the murky water just their eyes at the surface. It’s at this point you are glad to be in a large boat. Being out in the mangrove was a wonderful introduction to the huge amount of wildlife that Costa Rica holds, this small section of river that we journeyed on was teaming with life, truly amazing.

Heading out into the mangroves

Heading out into the mangroves

Scarlett Macaws

Scarlett Macaws

Water walking lizard

Water walking lizard

Racoons!

Racoons!

Don't disturb a sunbathing crocodile

Don’t disturb a sunbathing crocodile

Costa RIca

Costa Rica

As much as I would have loved to have spent many more hours journeying deeper into the mangroves it was time to leave and continue our journey to Manuel Antonio. Luck was clearly on our side because the moment we got back to the jetty the heavens opened and the much talked about rain of the rainy season started and did not stop until morning. This was epic rain like I have never seen, and rain we would continue to see every afternoon while in Costa Rica.

Travelling along the coast, passing through the beach towns that are frequented by the residents of San Jose at the weekend we eventually reached Manuel Antonio. Very few hotels actually have access to the beaches and those on the coast side vie for sea views. Many are perched on the cliff side or surrounded by forest. I spent the next two nights at the Hotel El Parador. It was a charming hotel with a colonial decor, dark wood and high ceilings. The main building offered spectacular views of the coast and the bays it created, the adult pool looking out over the cliff. The hotel offered a range of rooms, from the basic garden rooms which were ground floor and as the name suggests look out onto the garden. The rooms go up in grade offering more spectacular views of the sea and bays. The suites go as far as to have a hot tub on the balconies, a great place to enjoy the views. With a jam-packed itinerary we didn’t have much time to lounge around the hotel, but one evening we did spot the local toads and frogs making themselves at home in the main pool, an odd sight indeed!

The rain held itself back for our first morning in Manuel Antonio and the clouds cleared ready for us setting out on a catamaran tour. The 2.5 hour tour takes you out into the Pacific along the coast, the hope was to see whales and dolphins but they did not come out for us. Disappointed but the spectacular scenery made up for it. The rainforest spilling over the cliff edges into the ocean, this was true nature at its best. The blue sea crashing against the cliffs. Natural beaches etched into the bays offering an entrance into the dense rainforest, this is paradise. Going out onto the ocean of course means you can snorkel or swim in the warm waters, eagerly needed by everyone having sat in the hot sun for too long. After a refreshing dip and fish kebab cooked by the crew we headed back to shore because the afternoon was to be spent in the National Park, something I was greatly looking forward too.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park from teh Catamaran

Manuel Antonio National Park from the Catamaran

Inside the park is a beach, one that we had seen from the catamaran and this was to be our destination. The national park is currently going under quite a bit of work to make more trails for visitors so they can get deeper into the forest, something I definitely want to go back and experience. As we followed the main path into the park we were only a few hundred meters from the entrance when a troop of Capuchin monkeys appeared. They were crossing the path and were so at ease with us all being there. Not tame but not bothered by us at all. They were happy to pass between us on the path to get to the trees on the other side. This was odd for me having only experienced the Amazon Rainforest before where animal sightings are scarce in the dense forest. There was a Capuchin monkey standing right next to me – truly amazing.  As we carried on eyes peeled for any other sightings we soon found the one thing I really wanted to tick off my list, the sloth! High in the trees there he was climbing higher to get his leaves. He was just as I had imagined, long limbed, shaggy fur, the quizzical faces, my first sloth in the wild and he did not disappoint.

Capucin monkey's

Capuchin monkey’s

Costa Rica

Sharing the path with leaf cutter ants

Sharing the path with leaf cutter ants

Just a sloth hanging around

Just a sloth hanging around

Just this one path from the entrance to the beach was full of life, the path shared with leaf cutter ants going about their business, monkeys, sloths, beautiful birds and then the white sand beach, the trees spilling out onto the sand. As we walked along the sand we came across a fallen tree now the sun lounger for two impressive looking iguanas, one such tremendous shades of blue. Fallen coconuts being lapped by the waves on the beach. This is paradise. As I took everything in sitting on the sand there were more Capuchins behind us in the trees. I had only been in the park a couple of hours, imagine spending a few days here, or staying in a lodge within one of the national parks.

Manuel Antonio National Park beach

Manuel Antonio National Park beach

Beautiful blue iguana

Beautiful blue iguana

If you love wildlife, oh hell, if you are vaguely interested in it then this is the place to come because you cannot escape the wonders it offers. Of course there is so much more on offer than beaches and wildlife. Costa Rica is building a reputation for quite the adventure destination, be it zip lining through the forests, rafting on rivers or light trekking, there really is something for everyone in this tiny country!

The Lodge

The wood paneling, the antlers on the wall, warm blankets and a steaming bowl of fondu! I could be in the Alps, but alas I am not, I am in the heart of Balham and at the latest pop up from Jimmy Garcia, The Lodge.

The Alpine lodge theme runs through not only the decor but also the menu which is filled with fondu, hot cocktails and wild meat mains. All of which makes you long for the snow.

Feeling the Alpine spirit at the Lodge

Feeling the Alpine spirit at the Lodge

The Lodge

As with Jimmy’s other pop ups, this is a relaxed affair. With communal tables and a couple of smaller ones this is the place to go with friends, grab a couple of bottles of wine or a round of mulled cider from the drinks menu and then settle down for a natter over delicious fondu. Outside you can sit under big toasty blankets and heaters and really get into the Alpine swing of things by having the chill on your cheeks.

The fondu is the star of the show, made with Coolea and Ogleshield Somerset provided by Neals Yard Dairy and blended with white wine and kirsch, it sits proud in the middle of the table surrounded by potatoes, bread and salads. We of course had to have the delicious charcuterie served on slate to go with our cheese, because what meal is complete without charcuterie!

An Alpine spread of glorius fondu

An Alpine spread of glorius fondu

I very much recommend you get yourself down to the Lodge and get your urban apres ski on as it won’t be around forever! This is the ideal place to meet up with friends as the winter draws in either for dinner or sunday lunch ( the venison looks divine!).

 

Bobo Social

Now London isn’t short of Burger joints, they are popping up all over the place either as restaurants, street food vendors or pop up restaurants. The burger phenomenon is well and truly upon us and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

Of course I am not going to argue with this because I love a good burger, a big old patty of high quality flavoursome meat, gooey cheese and amazing topping choices. I admit it, I have a burger problem! This is only aided by the opening of new burger restaurants. So on hearing about BOBO social, offering lux burgers then I of course had to try it out.

BOBO social sells itself as offering a new dining experience. In their own words “Take a seat and relax, pop the champagne,enjoy an innovative small plate of deliciousness, a succulent burger made with fresh British ingredients, indulge yourself with a decadent dessert cocktail and laugh among friends… after all, what’s the rush?”

Now I agree with their statement in the most part, but not so much whats the rush! I booked a table for Saturday night at 7.30 because I thought, its Saturday night in London on Charlotte Street it will be busy, plus I had somewhere I needed to be at around 9pm. The restaurant located in a converted house is on split layers, the entrance being on one along with the kitchen and then as you head towards the back you drop a level. There was a group in the back room but out front there was no one else. In the bright white restaurant it was empty. We were seated at a table near the door and kitchen and the staff we instantaneously cheerful and friendly. We decided to order cocktails to start, thinking they would turn up quickly ( seen as there was no one else around) and could sip them while we decided on food, alas we were wrong. After 10 minutes we had to ask where they were and then only one turned up. You don’t offer a long cocktail list and sell yourself as a place for burgers and cocktails if you cannot whip them up quickly, how long would we have had to have waited if the restaurant was busy? Eventually we had to remind the waitress we were waiting on a drink. Then throughout the meal we were constantly asked if everything was ok, and once we had finished our food we kept being asked if we wanted desert even though we had told them we need some time to let our food settle. There was no point rushing us we had half a bottle of bubbles to finish! It all just seemed rather odd, that even when the place got busier ( about 8.15) it almost seemed like they had nothing to do but ask us if we were ok or needed anything else. It felt like we were being rushed but by the nicest people. I know they hadn’t been open very long and maybe the staff were just getting to know their roles but asking once if fine, but continuous ‘ is everything ok?’ is a bit annoying.
Inside BOBO Social

Inside BOBO Social

We may have had to wait a while but the cocktail was good  - gummy bear included

We may have had to wait a while but the cocktail was good – gummy bear included

Sigh! Enough about my moan about the weird interrogation by the staff, what about the food?!
They sell themselves as the place for experimental burgers, unique flavours and quality British produce. The food, it didn’t disappoint. Seen as the restaurant was so quiet our burgers turned up incredibly quickly, so quickly we hadn’t even finished our cocktails.Served on mismatched china plates and the fries in china cups it was an odd mix of china in a sleek modern environment.
We ordered the Peanut Butter and the Capsicum and split them. The Peanut Butter does what it says on the tin, it’s a succulent beef burger topped with monterary jack cheese and maple cured bacon and yes peanut butter. I couldn’t help but be intrigued, but by George it worked. The salty sticky peanut butter with the bacon and the meat, it just worked. I thought maybe the peanut butter might over power the flavour of the meat but it didn’t.
The Capsicum was a beef and chorizo patty, topped with Manchego, tomato and chilli salsa and jalapeno chillies. There was some chilli in the meat as well. This was a very nice burger, I am not sure how much chorizo I got through the beef but there was a slight heat from the chilli which was delicious.
The Peanut Butter burger

The Peanut Butter burger

The Capsicum Burger

The Capsicum Burger

Both burgers were delicious, the meat full of flavour and the toppings paired well. I liked that the burgers were a little different. The menu itself is short with only 6 burgers on offer plus their weekly experimental burger ( one created by guests visiting on a monday night at their experimental burger night), even the veggie option sounds tempting. The sides were fairly standard, I liked that they offered sweet potato fries but not sure about serving them in a tea-cup…. maybe I need time to adjust to this new way of serving chips!
Now usually after a burger I cannot physically fit in any dessert but seen as we had half a bottle of bubbles to finish and were not in a rush, after an appropriate amount of time to let the burger settle itself we dived into Dark and Milk chocolate salted caramel mouse. It came served in a small kilner jar. The mouse wasn’t light and fluffy but thick, solid and like a beautiful smooth truffle. It was sickly sweet but the salted caramel that ran through it cut through this and made a wonderfully delicious dessert.
the fabulous chocolate and salted caramel mousse

the fabulous chocolate and salted caramel mousse

Overall I very much enjoyed the food and would go back as the burgers were good, I would also be interested to see how busy it gets on a week night and whether the service has gotten better. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible service but just needed work.
If you are looking for a burger that is a little different to the run of the mill in settings that mix minimalist modern with vintage china then this is the place….. plus the cocktails aren’t bad either!
Enjoy xx

First Time Quail

I love having people around for dinner, it’s a chance to show off and cook something you wouldn’t normally cook during the week. So there I was pondering what to make as I wandered aimlessly around the supermarket – this happens more times than you would think – and I happened upon the game section of the meat aisle. I love game, its something that I generally only have as a treat when I go out for dinner, I never seem to choose it as something to cook at home. I don’t know why because venison is my favourite meat and I love little birds like grouse and Poussin. Of course I have ventured into the world of game before with delicious rabbit ragu!

Now one thing I haven’t tried before is quail, not sure why, but I haven’t. There in the fridge of the supermarket were quail, on special offer and calling to me. I had to do it, why not, try a new meat and learn to cook something new as well. sold!

Now quail are a tiny bird, not that much meat but as long as you have some good sides then one is more than enough for a person, although if you are feeding a hungry person who eats a lot you may want to serve them two!

tiny quail, enough for one... unless you are hungry

tiny quail, enough for one… unless you are hungry

I decided to keep my first time quail cooking simple. I looked through my cook books and the internet for recipe recommendations, how to cook, what sauce to make with it and some got really complicated. Simple is what I wanted.

To start with I decided to stuff my bird, I didn’t have time to make my own stuffing so good old store-bought would have to do, and also I was going to wrap it with streaky bacon to keep the meat moist and add a bit of flavour ( quail dries out quite quickly so if you are not using bacon make sure you baist it through cooking.

stuffed and wrapped quail ready for the oven

stuffed and wrapped quail ready for the oven

Ingredients (meal for 2)

Stuffing of choice – the size of your quail will depend on how much you make up, so make a little as per the packet to start and if you can fit more in then make some more.

2 Quail, no giblets (take out f the fridge one hour before cooking)

2 strips of streaky bacon

olive oil

mixed herbs to season ( I used thyme, rosemary and a little bit of tarragon)

150ml white wine

300ml chicken stock

1 teaspoon of flour

salt and pepper to season

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (fan oven). Make up your stuffing as per the packet instructions or if you are feeling super fancy make it from scratch! Once made put it to one side to cool as you do not want to be handling it hot.

2.  When the stuffing has cooled stuff the quail. Wrap one piece of bacon around the bird and secure it with a toothpick. You may want to secure the hole where you stuffed the bird with a tooth pick as well to stop the stuffing coming out. Then drizzle with olive oil and rub the herb mix in to it. Place the birds onto a roasting tin and put them into the oven.

3. Cook the birds for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. The juices should run clear. For the gravy, 15 minutes into cooking pour in 150ml of white wine  and place the tin back in the oven.

4. Once cooked remove from the oven and let the birds rest for 10 minutes. While resting make the gravy. Place the roasting tin over a medium heat and add the chicken stock, while stirring add the flour. Continue stirring ( with a whisk) until the sauce thickens and season to taste.

5. Remove the tooth picks and place the quail  on to plates. Serve with creamy mash potato and green beans. Serve with the gravy.

so yummy! stuffed quail with creamy mash and veg!

so yummy! stuffed quail with creamy mash and veg!

Enjoy! xx