Worth its salt

Nick goes to Anglesey to earn his salary (sic) by seeing Halon Môn salt created and how Green & Black’s chocolate is making new use of it.


David Lea-Wilson, co-founder

‘Every day whatever the weather I come down to the water’s edge and use this device,’ says David Lea-Wilson co-founder of the Anglesey Salt Company waving a curious kind of measuring instrument that looks rather like the thing doctors poke in people’s ears.

It is in fact a  refractometer and accurately measures how much light bends, or refracts, when it enters water. The more salt dissolved in the water, the more resistance the light will meet and the more it will bend.

This device is crucially important because the seawater here is what goes to make Halen Môn salt, widely regarded as one of the best sea salts in the UK if not the world. And it’s the salt Green & Black’s have chosen to go into their new Dark Sea Salt THIN bar.

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Go Dutch for great food at sea.

Today’s cruisers attach massive importance to the quality and variety of food on board. Nick Harman sees what Holland America’s newest ship has on the menu.

home-bgHolland America is one of the most venerable of cruise lines, but perhaps not the best known in the UK. Founded in 1873 for many years it ran regular passenger sailings from Holland to New York.

In fact when Rotterdam was the gateway to a new and better life for European emigrants in the early part of the last century, it was mostly on Holland America ships that they sailed.

I was invited to Rotterdam to sail and eat on the ms Koningsdam, the newest addition to the Holland America Pinnacle-class cruising fleet, and the largest as well. It was about to be dedicated by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands before we sailed to Amsterdam overnight.

All aboard for ‘free’ food Continue reading

La Cova Fumada, Barcelona

Carrer del Baluart, 56, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

‘There’s no sign outside,’ my informant told me over a beer in the Ramblas, ‘and you’ll think that there simply can’t be anywhere good to eat in that tourist area, but honestly, it’s the bomb.’

bomba6-1Which is a bit of an in joke because the restaurant is known, by those in the know, as ‘La Bomba’ because of one particular tapas it serves that is loved by all who go to this tiny place hidden in the backstreets of Barcoloneta, the port part of Barcelona. Continue reading

The Wilderness Festival is my kind of festival

blanc2The love the mob feels for Raymond Blanc is remarkable. He emerges from the back of the Banqueting Tent at the Wilderness Festival looking, as usual, eerily like Dudley Moore but in chef whites and the crowd immediately goes bananas.

He becomes the epicentre of a horde, dare we say a swarm, of phone-toting fans keen to get selfies with the grinning Raymond. As many of horde are young girls and women scantily dressed to allow for the day’s heat, his grin becomes even wider. My wife grabs her phone and disappears into the crush as fast as anyone else and eventually emerges triumphant with her own personal memento of what has been a very memorable occasion. Continue reading

Sing to me of summer. A picnic at Glyndebourne

Ex 70s punk and eternal fan of indie music, I’m lured down to Glyndebourne by the promise of a picnic in the sun and an aria or two.

IMG_0098They call it an earworm in Germany, the song that won’t get out of your head even if you don’t actually like it. Well I’m stuck with Toreador from Bizet’s opera Carmen and I’m actually finding myself making up my own words to it. ‘Stupid iMac, why won’t you pick up speed. That’s what I need. That’s what I need.’ It’s the result of just seeing Carmen at Glyndebourne, a magical afternoon and evening in the heart of the most beautiful English countryside, one spent in blazing sun and adorned with a superb picnic from Leith’s

I had never thought of going to Glyndebourne before, I had vague ideas of it being somewhat elitist, expensive and as far as opera went somewhat incomprehensible too. I have now changed that opinion radically. The audience was wonderfully mixed, the price not too bad considering the wonderful time we had, and opera, at least in the case of the accessible ones like Carmen, a magical thing to behold.

IMG_0088Glyndebourne is unique; a self-sustaining and self-financed, by ticket sales and private sponsorship, modern opera house attached to a stately home, the creation of John Christie back in the day as almost a hobby. It has grown since then to have a state of the art opera house, built a short while back, and has gained an international reputation for excellence while still retaining its uniqueness and is run by Christie’s descendants.

Situated a couple of miles outside Lewes in East Sussex, Ringmer is the nearest village, the opera house is powered by its own wind turbine and made almost entirely of natural, recyclable materials. It’s big enough to house a reasonably sized audience yet small enough to be intimate for performers and audience alike.

IMG_0070Outside the gardens and countryside of the South Downs sprawl languorously away from view, begging to be enjoyed with a glass of chilled wine and fine food, and that is exactly what the majority of Glyndebourne goers do. The men in evening dress, the ladies merely in dresses, they lie on picnic blankets or at folding tables with their cool boxes pouring forth food and drink, to be taken before the performance, or during the long interval as the sun slowly slides behind the great house.

Well we didn’t have to bring our own picnic because Leith’s had it all laid on. Recognising that in the week many people come straight from work and have no time to prepare food, but at the same time don’t want to eat in the range of indoor restaurants, Leith’s have a range of options that can be collected on arrival.

IMG_0073The choice is wide and tempting but must obviously be made in advance. We went for a sharing platter – three courses, porter service and picnic furniture option. This provided us with a sturdy chap to carry the cool box and set up the table and two chairs in a nice spot in the Sunken Garden, but there are lots more lovely spots to choose from. Here we gazed out over the lake, a cheeky breeze occasionally threatening to blow us in, but in England one is grateful for the fact the sun is blazing down, or indeed shining, at all. Glyndebourne does have plenty of sheltered spaces to eat when the weather really acts up though.

IMG_0093We ate the shared starter platter first, after a bit of a struggle getting it out of the cool box. The platters were very tightly wedged in and so very prettily laid out that it would have been an awful shame to tilt and mess them up on extraction.

Underneath came the crockery, the linen napkins, a range of glasses and cutlery of very classy kind and we tucked into the starter platter accompanied by a bottle of wine from the bar: Chargrilled asparagus, mange tout, pea shoot salad, smoked tomato mayonnaise, Langham cured smoked salmon & mackerel salad, Heritage beetroot, horseradish dressing Confit chicken & duck terrine, Dukkah crust, artichoke, orange & mint salad.

IMG_0095All very nice and as I say, excellently presented. Others looked on with what I feel was justifiable envy as we ate and then it was off to the opera house for the show.

This is not an opera review site so all I can repeat is that it was superb, quite superb. We came out for the long interval, around ninety minutes, to eat the main platter and dessert with the sun now fading and the grounds looking even lovelier.

The main grazing platter was a selection of continental sliced meats, glazed figs, pressed quince, marinated olives, dehydrated plum tomatoes, chargrilled artichokes, parmesan shavings

1jpgCheesecake with herby goat’s cheese, caramelised balsamic red onions, rocket leaves, all again excellent and despite not looking all that much, very substantial.

A trio of dessertsofdark chocolate black cherry dome, pistachio custard, Kent strawberries & cream, salted caramel panna cotta, gingerbread crumble were delicious.

Coffee and chocolate came forth; we finished off the wine and wandered back to the opera house for the last acts. One of the very big advantages of the Leith’s picnic is that somebody else clears up after you.

IMG_0065And so an hour later, still humming the tunes, and with dickey bow loosened, we headed happily home.

Glyndebourne is quite magical, well worth the money for a once a year treat and Leith’s have the picnic sorted superbly as you might expect

Now all together, ‘Toreador, L’amour t’attend! Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant’.Discover more about Glyndebourne and Leith’s picnics at their website


A magical meal at Giffords Circus

Run away to the circus? I feel that I very well might after eating at Giffords circus.

img_4390_18551034158_oI’ve had some odd dining companions in my time but these people are particularly unusual. A clown, an exotic ringmaster (with a mysterious accent) and a charming chap  of ‘restricted growth’ and these are just the people nearest me. All around the tent are all kinds of exotic creatures and all, like me, are falling on the sharing plates of food with cries of delight.

This is Circus Sauce, a restaurant tent attached to a mobile kitchen; two large showmans’ wagons painted in Giffords Circus colours. The tent is candlelit, fitted with large oak tables and decorated all around with Giffords vintage tapestries and odd eclectic items. It is, on this warm summer’s night in the enchanted grounds of Chiswick House, a fabulous place to be. Continue reading

Fraq’s Lobster Shack

55 Goodge Street, London, W1T 1TQ www.fraqslobstershack.com

2M5A8902I must be getting old, the first thing that hits me on entering Fraq is the noise; I can barely hear what the girl in charge of opening the door is saying to me. It isn’t so much the people making noise as the music, it’s club-loud. This may be a good idea in the evening when the majority of customers will probably be under 25 and on their way somewhere exciting, but at lunch it has us having second thoughts straightaway.

But undaunted we  push through a crowd of young men in beards, and young girls in those still popular ‘cute’ bobble hats, to a table somewhat larger than a napkin, We’d ordered at the cooking counter, it wasn’t a  difficult moment; Maine Lobster Roll or Calamari Club?  Fries and/or fried courgette strips?  A craft bottle beer? Continue reading

The Gin Palace

A tour of the remarkable new Bombay Sapphire distillery in Laverstoke. It’s a place of taste and eco responsibiity and rather good gin

IMG_3607The gin isn’t actually blue. This is something I discovered much to my disappointment when I was first ordered gin in a pub. It’s just the tint of the glass bottle. But then Bombay Sapphire was always smart with its marketing.

IMG_3525Today as Bombay Sapphire’s ’Senior Brand Ambassador’ Sam Carter picks up a bottle to make a cocktail, it literally lights up electric blue ‘It’s a little gadget stuck to the bottom,’ he explains. ’You pick up the bottle and it comes on. Great for dark bars!’ Now that’s branding. Continue reading

The names James, Le Saint James

High on a hill, Le Saint James Hotel in Bordeaux offers unique style, fantastic views, superb food and a cookery school as well. 

IMG_3154We started calling it the ‘Le Saint James Bond’ moment, the moment after waking up that I pressed the button to raise the blind at the end of our bed.

With a cheerful whirr all four meters or so of blind would creep upward to slowly reveal a 180 degree view of Bordeaux spread out to the west below. The early light shining onto the taller buildings the cars with their headlights on, blue lights of emergency services silently and purposefully charging down the autoroutes. Magical.

IMG_3350The room, like all the rooms at the Le Saint James Hotel, is designed around the bed and the bed is designed around the view. Up here in the village of Bouliac, known unsurprisingly as the Balcony of Bordeaux, everyone gets a good view but lucky guests in their beds have the best view of all. Continue reading

The fat of the land

Pigs and parmesan aren’t enough for the people of Emilia Romagna, Italy, they want to have their art and eat it too. Nick Harman heads out to sample a bit of both.IMG_2912‘I’m going to London tomorrow.’ enthuses the Italian man at Due Platani , a trattoria in the countryside just outside Parma, ‘I’ve got a reservation at Chiltern Firehouse after three months’ wait!’ Well you don’t want to be a downer on anyone do you, but I had to bite back a ‘why bother?’ I mean I had just eaten a superb meal of local, seasonal produce such as pumpkin ravioli, so good other chefs come for miles to eat them, in a room joyfully filled with people of all ages and with not a WAG or scenester in sight.

IMG_3086It was followed by pasta ribbons mixed with a perfect balance of duck ragu, enough to add flavour to the fresh pasta but not swamp it, then some guinea fowl with spicy sweet mostarda, and had ended with my being invited to see a huge mound of fresh ice cream come surging out of an ancient gelato machine before it was rushed to eagerly waiting tables. You don’t get that in West London. Continue reading