A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

The Mash Inn - Chiltern Hills


Good morning & Merry Christmas!
Our culinary exploration of the Chiltern Hills continues. And thanks to the three boys who own the Mash Inn, the area now often features in food magazines and is attracting more and more buzz.  
We had been to the Mash Inn on a warm, summer, Sunday afternoon, in search of a roast. They were closed. But we did get to see the garden with uninterrupted views over the Chiltern Hills and that massive iron fire pit, which must look gorgeous, when lit, under the summer evening sky.
Fast-forward four months and we are in December, with a  weekday reservation for dinner at the Mash Inn. It’s dark and wet and cold outside, but we’ve got a reservation - finally -  so let’s do this!

You know I’m going to say it was worth it. It was. Let me tell you why.
The guys that own the place are committed.
Committed enough to only open from Wednesday to Saturday, because they want everyone who works there to be happy and offer top notch service. Surely that’s not what gives restaurants Michelin stars? Yes it is. And it’s what makes for friendly and spot on service that made us feel relaxed and looked after, even on a cold and miserable December night.  

After our aperitivo by the fire we were shown to the ...kitchen! And we started chatting.
The kitchen is an extension of the dinning room. There are no walls, it's all open for you to wander in and see what's cooking. There is no stove either, but there are two live fire pits, already hot and ready to cook tonight’s meals. Everything happens here, Jon, the chef, greeted us and so did the rest of the staff. They are all down to earth. They are nice.
The dining area is simply decorated but the view at daytime out of the windows must be amazing. Little bonus -  the fire pit outside is lit. We can spot the flames dancing in the cold through the windows. We promise to check it out before we go.


Back to why else the place was worth it.
The food.
It’s fresh. And local. And interesting. And cooked on live fire. Francis Malmann take notice, please!
Everything is grilled, barbecued or poached over the wood fire - taste buds rejoice!

Are you one of those people who get excited at the prospect of bread & butter? Well, first of all, good for you! So are we! We always get excited with bread and butter, somehow it sets the tone for the meal. Well, the butter was smooth and creamy and the bread was a smoked garlic muffin, as a matter of fact. Spectacular smokey garlic flavour, not too strong but punchy enough, sourced by the nearby fields, fresh and then preserved in salt.  

Then the starters: poached oysters for me, chicken liver parfait for my husband; both deliciously fresh. I'm happy I tried the oysters, great idea poaching them in their own liquid over a live fire - I just think I prefer the crispiness of the cold, salty liquid they come in.
For our main, we both went for the lamb, roasted perfectly over the wood fire.
By "perfectly" I mean that it was seared nicely on the outside and although it still had that pinky colour inside, it was slightly warm and tender, the kind that makes you smile after one bite. 
That dish was like the little shop of curiosities, full of surprising little accompaniments. Take the pickled fresh walnuts, amongst other things. Jon, the Chef, has a real eye for playing around with local veg that he pickles and preserves everything he can get his hands on - his pickling jars are all dotted around the pub. This means that your food will not be served with he same staff over and over.



Trivial question: what's with the pineapple?
Nick, one of the three owners, told us that his family were grocers, hence the pineapple reminded him of their hard work. This place is run by real people. 

Now let's go see the fire pit outside, under the December starry sky.

Luxe Red

 
The Pub Guide: George & Charlie Dailey, a Father-Daughter Collaboration - "Great Pubs of London"

Geneva in Two Days - Vielle Ville, Fondue and Burgers

 

Early morning flight from London, it's all worth it just to catch the sun rising over the Alps!

Attention, sil vous plais! This post contains cheesy pictures of fondue and stringy shots of melted gruyer!

Geneva is usually a gateway to the Alps and rightly so - the airport has excellent train connections to all of Switzerland, France and Germany. But if you make time for Geneva itself, you won't be disappointed. That's what we did, we caught a Swiss Air flight to Athens and stopped over for two nights.
 
Two days are plenty: one to see the Vielle Ville and Plainpalais and the second to tour around the UN and WTO Headquarters, finishing off in the colourful Carouge, an Italianised suburb.
Plenty of cheese involved around every step!
 


We stayed in Hotel N'vY, an excellent boutique hotel, two blocks away from Lac Leman and closer to Nation, where the UN, Jardin Boanique and the WTO sites are located.
It is filled with art pieces and ladies who lunch; the bar gets quite busy in the evenings too.
 
However, what we also soon realised is that this is not the reputable part of town, if you catch my drift. Never thought I'd say that about any neighbourhood around Geneva, especially so close to the lake, but here we are. Paquis is where the immigrant community has settled and as a result, there are loads of Indian, Turkish and Chinese restaurants, a good compromise.
On the upside, the rooms in N'vY are gorgeous, very modern, fresh and spacious, with massive comfy beds. All of your USB-wiring has been taken care of, so that we even plugged in our Chromecast to watch movies from our Netflix account.
 
And last but not least: our room came with free transport cards for the whole of our stay so that we didn't spend a penny on taxis. Bearing in my mind that my husband "doesn't do public transport" as he puts it, imagine how good the tram and bus system is!

http://bit.ly/2jblo5L

http://bit.ly/2jblo5L


Our first attempt for a good fondue was in les Armures, in the the old town.
After exploring the old town, we needed a good, traditional setting to chill at and enjoy the very reason we were in town for: fondue! This place was perfect, it had a medieval cellar feeling.

The fondue payssaine, included lardons and mushrooms in the pot, for flavour.
One pot will do nicely for two people, provided you get one more dish, like traditional sausage with Rosti, for example. We actually left very content and not full at all. Maybe the bottle of Pinot Noir helped, or the fact that we had walked up and down the entire old town beforehand.
When tackling fondue, forget about the water, you need black tea, red wine or kirsch to get things going, otherwise you'll end up with a heavy, heavy stomach.
 
Do you know your fondue etiquette?
- No double-dipping!
- No liking your fork!
- Clean the sides of your fondue pot first!
- Dip your bread in the pot and tap to get rid of excess cheese. Nothing worse than a fondue hogger!
 
A note on service around restaurants...be patient.
They are quick with your order but the rest of the time you might feel ignored. It's part of the setup, restaurants don't seem to have an army of waiters like in UK for example, but that's fine, eating all around Europe is a relaxed and pleasurable affair, not a business deal. And make an effort with your French, they'll be as helpful as possible after that!
 
The Old town is gorgeous, although very quiet! Bus No36 does a round-trip from the main shopping area all around the old town, so if you don't like slopes use that instead.

A very unexpected setting - the Hamburger Foundation

We took a break from the fondue and popped into a retro place for burgers, around Paquis.
The Hamburger Foundation offers three things: burgers, cheeseburgers and loaded burgers, oh there is a veggie burger too. Everything comes with salad and fries and trust me when I say that you'll be happy to have some salad at this stage!
This is a gorgeous little retro dinner-turn-east-London-cool spot!  
  
Colourful Carouso

On Sunday afternoon, we headed to Carouge, a village straight out of the Nutcracker.
This is a colourful, vibrant little quarter, built by the Dukes of Savoy to rival Geneva. It has an Italian feel, it's packed with little cafes and so many patisseries! Everywhere you look there are sweets, tarts, pastries, it's chocolate and chantilly galore! 

Our second attempt at fondue at Cave Valaisanne et Chalet Suisse



 
On Sunday night we went for yet another fondue. Unfortunately some of the restaurants were closed, so bear that in mind. One of the most popular fondue places, is this little spot called Gruyerien, with a red cow outside, in Village Suisse, but being Sunday, it was closed too.
 
We went to Cave Valaisanne et Chalet Suisse instead; it looks like a Suisse chalet with wooden panelling and red checked tablecloths. It's more commercial than the Gruyerien, but we heard quite a few locals around us, so that encouraged us to stay.
We had fondue fines herbes this time around, a simple fondue spiced up with very light and aromatic herbs. We had cold meats alongside our cheesy adventure, in an attempt to cut back on bread.
It worked!
 
Outdoors Chess in Pac des Bastion, on a chilly Sunday December afternoon   

Champagne please - Bob Bob Ricard, Soho


Bob Bob Ricard is one of the most instagramed places in London; therefore if you belong to the London Insta-crew this place is probably old news - their now famous “Press for Champagne” button is part of the revamped “things-to-do in London” list, if there ever was one!
That leaves the out-of-towners - you lucky gits - to experience something different, something with flair and decadence! 

Bob Bob Richard market themselves as a Russian restaurant with a twist. Unlike Marivanna - the other "hot" Russian thing, with 18th century Russian-home hospitality - they have cultivated this Gatsby-like atmosphere  with blue, green and red booths, Art Deco brass details and impeccably dressed waiters in baby-pink waistcoats.
If you are a social butterfly, who wishes to see and be seen, go for the blue booths, if you are on a special date go for the green and if you can afford to buy champagne for your friends go for the red.
 

One of the new "things to do" in London town. 

What did we like? Well, as the saying goes, "Men are from Mars" ...and so on, I'll let you decide who went for what! 
Favourite combo one: The Amaretto Cherry Sour, their well-priced Russian Sturgeon caviar and the truffle fries. 
Favourite combo two: The Lobster Mac & Cheese and the Chocolate Royal.
 
There is Russian sturgeon and Oscietra caviar, starting from £27 for 20gr. We went mid-range and tried the Sturgeon, very smooth, not very sharp. A treat really!
 
Golden and cheesy Mac & Cheese

Salmon tartare and truffle fries, it's all about balance in life - you can't be too good, you can't be too bad!
 
I almost forgot about the other most video-ed item on the menu: the golden, chocolate bubble Royal.
When the waiter started pouring the hot chocolate over it, perfect triangular slices started peeling away, just like petals fall away from a flower.

Was it worth it? Hey, I did get to put my red dress on!
 


Sunday Roast - Sir Charles Napier Inn, Chinnor


The most un-assuming place in the Chiltern Hills!
 
If you are on a quest for a quintessential Sunday roast in a rural setting, this is the place. 
We discovered the Sir Charles Napier Inn by chance, during a summer Sunday afternoon drive around the Chiltern Hills, in search of a good roast. We soon realised that most pubs around the area seem to close after Sunday lunch, hence our quest was unfruitful at the time. But the Sir Charles Napier did pop up on our search as one of the best gastropubs in the area; sadly they too, close after Sunday lunch service. 
 
So we had to wait for our turn, on an autumn Sunday, to visit this lovely, rural, gem of a gastropub. Maybe it was better this way, we now have the sweetest late autumn afternoon to remember.
 

The cosy lounging area, around one of the two fireplaces

The atmosphere is relaxed but there is an underlying professional attitude when it comes to food and attention to detail.
For example, although we arrived right on time for our lunch, we were not rushed at all. Instead, we were seated by the cosy fireplace and asked what we would like to drink. Our food order was taken as we were enjoying our glass of wine, by the fireplace. The wine list is also commendable and there is a "Claret of the Month" option too.

When we eventually got to our table, our starters came straight away and that's where the professionalism and timing kicks in. The whole set up reminded us both of our favourite place in the New Forest, the Pig, for the same chilled out attitude and attention to detail. 

Seared foie gras, velvety, soft, delicious!
Light and fluffy cheese soufflé
Table-top art - the Inn and gardens are full of bronze animals, pieces of art from a local artist.  
The main course: two types of roast pork, with all of the trimmings

The main dining area is this sunny parlour, surrounded by balcony doors that let the afternoon light flood in. It's the right balance between "grown up" - but not stuffy - and easy-going. There are little bronze animal sculptures all around the tables, so you might easily find yourself having lunch overlooked by the Owl, or as in our case the little Bear. 

Let me gush about the food now, I went for the seared foie gras and my husband went for the cheese soufflé. They were both light, exactly what starters should be like, not heavy. My foie gras was the perfect little sweet treat, velvety and delicious. The cheese soufflé was strong-flavoured but fluffy at the same time.

And the main star of the show: the roast!
We both went for pork roast, which was served with two cuts of pork. First we tucked into the usual pieces that were sitting right on top of the plate, but we soon discovered a little pile of succulent pulled pork sitting underneath too. And off course, there were two little crispy pieces of crackling right on top of everything. You can't imagine my grin at that point!
Usually pub roasts are let down because the trimmings are overlooked and they come straight out of a freezer bag, where carrots go black on the ends, yuk. Not here! The carrots and parsnips were prepped and cooked properly, in lovely butter and glaze,  and there was plenty of gravy to go around for our massive Yorkshires.

Us being us, we also ordered dauphinoise potatoes, just in case the roast potatoes weren't good enough. It was an unnecessary precaution because the roast potatoes were perfectly blondish and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. However, the little skillet that contained the dauphinoise, was also perfection, very creamy and smooth. Disaster averted, indulgence maximised!


The Inn's back garden, full of little tables and spots for outdoors dinning.

There's a Bull in the back yard!
Our spot in the garden to watch the sun set over the Chiltern Hills
Dessert please!

The excellent service proclaimed itself again at dessert. We asked if we could take a 20 minute brake after our main course, to walk around the gardens, take a breather and have dessert outside. No problem at all.

So off we went to the gardens, that are dotted with more bronze sculptures - in giant proportions - the work of a local artist, Michael Cooper. A Rabbit by the balcony door, a Bull sitting on one of the tables and off course the Slug, the centrepiece in the garden. My favourite one was Mr Fox.

As we were walking back up the hill, coffees and cheesecake were just arriving too.
What a perfectly romantic spot, to watch the sun go down, over the Chiltern Hills!
 
Slugg...ish Sundays! 

Step into a Byzantine world - Monemvasia


Monemvasia's nick-name in Greek is "kastropoliteia".
In English it simply translates to "city in the Castle", but in Greek it's this dreamy, poetic, other-worldly word. This is because there aren't that many "cities in the Castle" to be found around in Greece, let alone one that is fully alive and kicking and has survived the pass of time.
 
When you go through the "Castle" gate - the main gate, the only gate - you descend into a Byzatine world. The cobbled paths take you up and down through alleyways squished between colourful houses with terracotta roofs, that all put together a post-card picture, no matter what season you visit. Monemvasia is beautiful in the sunshine, but it's even more mysterious and dramatic in the rainy and windy days of late autumn. 
 
View of the Old Town and the Rock, towering above our balcony
Our traditional, shabby chic abode at Byzantino Suites

We stayed at Hotel Byzantino's suites, a collection of elegantly restored town houses, with traditional material, exposed beams and shabby chic interiors.
Our room was on the top floor of a traditional house, right off the main cobbled path in the Castle. It felt so great to climb up the stairs and walk into this historic time-capsule; traditionally restored floors and wooden dark windows, dotted with little white curtains and red hand-crafted embroidery. The best feature of our suite was the balcony, with glorious view of the Med. A gorgeous spot amongst the terraces and rooftops of this "City in the Castle".

Breakfast is served at a café down the main cobbled path, overlooking the main square at "kanoni". Space is limited, as the city limits are always restricted by the thick, sandstone walls, cascading down the sides of Monemvasia's Rock. Hence, hotels are spread around different buildings. It's an interesting concept, because you soon get to know all of the loacals running the shops along the main cobbled path in the Castle!
Hotel Byzantino is run by two lovely sisters, very helpful, always keen to offer advice, as well as a late check out for us, lazy travellers!

Breakfast in the sunshine with the local kitty gang, they claimed their territory and didn't flinch once.
 
There are lots of restaurants in the Castle and the one we were happy with for dinner, was Matoula's Taverna. It's on the main road, it only offers traditional dishes and it seemed to be frequented by locals, which is always a good sign. Another one, a bit more upmarket, is Chrisovoulo, they offer twists on traditional dishes.

We got a taste of the local traditional specialities like "siglino", preserved smoked pork usually cooked with scrabbled eggs or served cold, similar to cold ham. Malvasia wine, that attracted French and Venetian merchants here in Byzantine times. And finally, "travichtes", a cross-over between savoury doughnuts and pancakes, fried, served with cheese or honey.

I'll be perfectly honest in saying that overall, we were not that impressed with eating out in Monemvasia. This took us a bit by surprise, because the culture of eating out in Greece is so big and restaurants are good, regardless of the price. It was probably the fact that we had just arrived in Greece and we were keen as ever for home-made food, or that Monemvasia is a tourist destination, possibly tailored to visitors' tastes, or a bit of both. Anyway, nothing a bit of local rosé and "kefalotiri" - salty, hard cheese - can't fix! You can always count on cheese and wine to get you through, in Greece!

Agia Sophia church on the very top of the Rock, amongst ruins of old houses.
Beautiful and peaceful - Agia Sophia interior.
How old would that olive tree be? And how much has it witnessed? 
The "lower square"

On our first day in Monemvasia, after our breakfast, we slowly started ascending the steps to the “Upper Town”. The original town of Monemvasia, was built on top of the rock that forms this other-worldly island. With every step you get closer to a completely different era and with every step the view is different.

First you can look down on the colourful mosaic of rooftops, terraces and secret gardens behind the locals’ walled properties. Slowly, you also get glimpses of the open Mirtoo Sea, that’s the beginning of the Aegean. Endless blue in other words, deep, dark and mysterious.
After 15 minutes you get to the first gate. Enter at your own risk and with your own sense of respect. This is a whole city that was deserted gradually in the 18th century, the local archaeological authority is slowly restoring some buildings but there is a lot more under the dried weeds. So try not to smoke and not to slip down.

Another 5 minutes climb beyond the first gate, you'll find yourself at the perfectly restored, honey-coloured church of Agia Sophia - Holly Wisdom. It is on the very top of the rock, always windy and with amazing views of the surrounding area. It all feels so wild up there. We wondered  around the ruins most of the morning, imagining the houses that once stood here, all white "like swans" as an 18th century traveller once wrote. We felt grateful for being there, able to take time off to just wander around this spectacular heritage site.

Climbing up towards the "Upper City"
Spectacular views of the City in the Castle, such vibrant colours

On our way down, we took a diversion to walk to the Lighthouse, the outer point of Monemvasia's rock, constantly battered by waves, wind and salty water.

Just as we finally got back down in town it started drizzling, so we went straight into the first door we saw and what do you know, they had a covered little balcony at the back, with the nicest view of the sea, beyond the pastel coloured houses. I tried the local rosé, sweet and smooth; my husband had his favourite Athenian beer, Alpha, all served with lovely local cheese and sesame sticks, "kritsini".
Now let it rain!  
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