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L'Amandier de Mougins

On our first night in the South of France we ventured out to Mougins.
We had read about its' rich culinary history and we were hoping for a nice, easy meal.

As soon as we entered the old town we spotted L'Amandier on the left, squished between the hill and the other town houses. We decided there and then to make a reservation for a bit later.
It turned out to be a good idea, as it was already 8pm and they didn't have anything free until 9:30pm! L'Amandier was re-opened in 2010 and specialises in cuisine Nicoise, that means local dishes with a little twist.

Strolling around the old town, we built up a good apetite, so when we finally returned to L'Amandier and climbed up the two sets of stairs, we were overjoyed with the setting: a massive terrace, seemingly floating over the hills with amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding area.

All of the hills were covered in bright green, dotted with the traditional honey-coloured local houses and even splashes of blue from the pools here and there.
And far to the left, where the Alps Maritime slowly gather up higher and higher, the horizon was turning pink and coral, with the sun setting.
We went for the "menu Roger Verge", cooked by the 2006 "best young chef in French cuisine", two-Michelin stars, chef Denis Fetisson. 

*Amuse-bouche: a watermelon gazpacho, fresh, crisp and refreshing!
*Pan Bagnat: an interesting take on a Provencal classic sandwich with tuna - only in this case, it came in the form of a golden, bite-size creation. 

*Zucchini Flower Stuffed - they had me right there, no need to read on - with Chicken Breast, in a Creamy Mushroom "Velouté, with Noilly Prat vermouth.
My favourite dish of the whole menu hands down.
The chicken stuffing was succulent and the mushroom veloute a luxurious treat; not to mention the artistic presentation.  

*John Dory poached in Fish Soup, served with Purple Artichoke in a French Dressing with Pine Nuts.
A light, delicate dish - not entirely sure if we did it justice however, having it after the gorgeous and intense stuffed zucchini.

*Filet of Lamb Stuffed with Parsley and Garlic, served with Carrots on Swiss Chard Cushion, with Thyme Juice.
Lamb cooked to perfection, no doubt there! And the plate looked like an abstract painting...
*Goat Cheese from Mr Monteiro, Olive Oil, Onion "Cebette" and Thyme.
This is when things start to go slower - when the cheese arrives.
The initial excitement subsides and waves of fulfilment force you to take it easy. Not such a strong goat's cheese, flavoursome enough however, to keep us going!

*Black Forest  "Amandier’s Style" - Chantilly galore in other words!

Oh, but that's why we come to France, ma petite cherie! To indulge in butter and Chantilly with no regret and no shame.
That's exactly what we did! x

Mougins in the moonlight.

South of France - Mougins

Rolling Hills around Mougins

Mougins is for the romantics.
It's all about "that" South of France feeling...
Sitting in our patio, on our first afternoon in Mougins, sipping on coffee, taking it all in: the warm breeze, the pine trees swaying, splashes from the pool nearby and the excitement of discovering new places! 
During our trip to the South of France, we decided to forgo large cities and instead, rent a car  and drive around smaller villages; 
Mougins is one of them, a perfect little medieval crown on the hills of Alpes Maritimes, just off the coast of Cannes.
It might not be as famous as Eze, or Saint Paul de Vance, but it is a very special place, especially if you are a bon viver with appreciation for good food; there was a time in the 70's that Mougins was called the most Michelin "starred" village in France, with 11 restaurants carrying Michelin "macaroons"! 
Afternoons by the pool in Hotel de Mougins 
View from our patio: Orange trees, Olive trees and lavender bushes.

We stayed in Hotel de Mougins, a lovely property built around mature gardens full of Mediterranean natives; olive and orange trees, lavender and rhododendron bushes. A little oasis amongst swaying pine trees and singing cicadas that would easily rival your favourite Spotify list!  

The Pros: great location, on the hills behind Cannes; 20 minutes drive to Nice airport;
perfect for "that" feeling of Cote d' Azur; comfortable beds and lovely bed linen;
Nespresso machines in every room; Tesla supercharger, for your electric car, within the grounds!
Could be better: oldish bathrooms, tidy but in need of updating.
Starting the day off in he sun, with a shot of coffee and yes, it's in a wine glass!

Early evening around Mougins

A bit of afternoon rest by the pool and off we went into Mougins old town, on our first evening in Cote d'Azur. 
There is a car park just before the entrance to the Old Town, where lovely classic cars pop up from time to time, as a reminder that something of that 50's feeling is still to be found around these parts.
That's if you are a bit of a romantic like us, if you are into your modern supercars and humungous super-yachts, head to St Tropez, instead.
The entrance to the village has been renamed "Avenue of the Grand Chefs", because it runs by a few of the restaurants that used to carry Michelin stars.
One of them is L'Amandier, a gorgeous honey-coloured property lodged on the side of the cliff, with amazing views over the surrounding hills. We made a reservation for dinner for nine thirty and went on for a troll around the village.

Locals, tourists and expats were all starting their evening off with aperitif, around the old town square; we joined in off course! 
Aperol Spritz in hand, we watched the world go by.

Last rays of glorious sunshine in Mougins

Mougins has also played host to Picasso, who stayed here in a hotel in the 1930's and painted his hotel room wall; but the owner of the hotel had no idea of who he was, so he painted over Picasso's drawings!

Since then, lots and lots of artists have visited Mougins, with its' tiny streets, steep cobbled ways and majestic views of the surrounding hills bursting with all shades of green.
There is absolutely no rushing around here.

On our way to L'Amandier, we passed the main square where the local "old boys" were having a game of Boules, or..."playing with balls", as I like to put it. Such a quaint sight, we stopped and watched the game for a while.  

At that time, there was nowhere else we'd rather be; there were no cars, no shops open other than the restaurants and the setting sun was making everything warm and happy.  

At the end of our trip, we asked each other what was our favourite place and we both looked at each other and said... "Mougins" at the same time.  

Sunday Brunch - Mediterranean Eggs with Spinach and Greek Yoghurt

Eggs in tomato sauce are a staple, all around the Med.
May it be "kayiana" in Greece, or Calabrian "uovo fra'diavolo", or "Shakshuka" in Israel, it's all about fresh ingredients and a delicious, easy and healthy home-cooked breakfast.

Mediterranean Eggs with Spinach and Greek Yoghurt

- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 200gr spinach, washed & drained
- 3-4 ripe tomatoes, washed
- pinch of cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 eggs
- salt & pepper

- Wholemeal multi-seed toast (or your favourite bread)
- olive oil
- dried oregano

Start with blending the tomatoes, one spoonful of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cinnamon together in a blender. Set aside.

Warm up a tablespoon of olive oil in a wide frying pan, on medium heat and soon after, add the chopped garlic.

Once the garlic starts sizzling - or dancing around the pan, as my niece would say - add the spinach.

Toss the spinach around the pan until it's glossy, but not completely reduced down.
This should take 3-4 minutes. Do not cover the pan at this stage, let the steam evaporate.

Add the blended tomatoes to the pan and stir gently to spread out the spinach around the tomato sauce. Let most of the liquid evaporate and the tomato puree to cook down a bit. That should take 5-7 minutes, depending on how much water the tomatoes have.

Clear a spot at a time, amongst the tomato and spinach and crack an egg into it. Repeat three more times. Cover the pan straight away. After 4 minutes uncover the pan and switch the heat off completely.
Season with salt and pepper, dollops of Greek yoghurt and a sprinkle of olive oil, if you wish.

Serve immediately with lots of your favourite bread!

My favourite everyday bread is multi-seed toast, well toasted and sprinkled with olive oil and oregano! But use any kind of bread you like and if you happen to have the BBQ fired up, this makes for a great starter too!
This is the flavour of Greek barbeques and summer days! x

An Impromptu Day in Brighton

The sound of waves breaking and kids playing on the beach, are probably two of  life's greatest joys.

"Oh shit! ... the tickets!" 
And so started our day-trip to Leeds Castle.
But the title says "Brighton"! Ok, ok, give me a sec.
We visited Leeds Castle a year ago and  we then found out that entry tickets last for a year - a year coming up next Saturday, we decided it was now or never if we wanted to go back.
Only, half way down - or rather round - the M25, I realised that I forgot the tickets...at home!
Laughter, shaking of heads and change of course: Brighton it is! 

We hadn't been to Brighton in years. I mean, it's cool and all, but it's gained a reputation for imitating Ibiza with a cross-over to 80's arcade leftovers, ergo not what comes to mind for a relaxing Sunday. Well, we were pleasantly proven wrong! 

Brighton is cool; that's true. But there is something different about it now, much more sophisticated. 
As we were driving into town, we spotted Pippi Longstrumfen walking down the street to the left, Bangkok Ladyboys Show to the right, then straight into Brighton Football Club supporters, across from the 10th Tattoo Convention and finally into a noisy mini parade of the local moppet club.
That's cool by everybody's standards. 

Left: The Old Pier ruins from i360. Right: A quick drink at the Hilton Terrace, with  a view of the Old Pier ruins.
Walking around...
Apart from the Pavilion and the Pier, Brighton's most famous attractions, there is plenty more to see.
Firstly, we treated ourselves to some Scampi & Chips with plenty of salt & vinegar; had to be done, only make sure you are quick, the seagulls love chips! 
Then we went straight for the sea, sat down and watched the waves break onto the pebbles. Life slows down after a couple of minutes and your senses are indulged to blue skies dotted with humongous white seagulls, waves relentlessly beating on the Pier stilts, kids playing all around and the smell of sea-salt, fish&chips and hot-dogs lingering in the air.

Then we discovered that the Beach Walk - the stretch between the new and old Piers - has been transformed to a vibrant, clean-cut pedestrian zone, to suit everyone's needs.
Smart, upmarket and relaxed beach-bars are scattered all along the Beach Walk, depending on your mood. Ohso Social Beach Bar seemed to be the spot where all the vibrant, young things (yes, I've been watching Downton again) meet up to mingle and enjoy a drink, with a view of the Pier and the sea; while further down the Walk the music turns up louder and louder, bars spot clever names such as the Krakken and you can even lounge and smoke shisha, on the beach; a bit of everything to suit all tastes and budgets.

In-between the beach bars, we spotted art galleries squeezed under the arches.
We even run into Brighton's Fishing Museum, entry is free and it's the perfect spot for kids to explore a whole fishing boat up-close.
We even got to participate in an "active art installation", throwing colourful pebbles on the beach, right next to "Afloat" or the Brighton Doughnut, as it's affectionately known!
This city is so alive!

We kept walking but as the crowds were getting bigger and bigger, waiting for Brighton football-team victory parade, we crossed onto the other side of the street and had a quick cocktail at the Hilton's Waterhouse Bar & Terrace. We were treated to a small cheerful tour of Brighton's moppet club, who made so much noise that I felt we were in Italy! So much fun!  

Left: The deck at BA's i360. Right: simple pleasures, scampi and chips, eat it fast before the seagulls do!

Left: Lounging around the i360 deck. Right: view of the Brighton football team victory parade from the i360 flight - and spot these cool arty rooftops too!
View of the seafront from i360's flight!

British Airways i360...

After our drink at the Hilton, still no parade in sight, even more Brighton football supporters gathering by the sides of the road, we knew it was time to escape the crowds.
"Let's go for a "flight" onto the new British Airways i360".

You can't miss it, it's set up right in front of the old Pier ruins, towering over the elegant Regency Square. 
As we "took off" the ground, we realised that the procession honouring Brighton football team players was finally underway and we got to see it all from up high, we couldn't have timed it better. Close to 3,000 people were following the bus carrying the players, all very orderly but very, very proud.

The views were amazing.
The "flight" takes around 20 minutes, which would have normally been ample time for me to finish my G&T;  oh yes, there is a bar "in-flight" too.
But, I was so busy admiring the English riviera the whole time, running from side to side,  that as we were landing, I had to enlist my husband's help to finish my drink. This never happens!
The coast looks simply amazing from high up. I got a sense of California living, with all of the high blocks of flats on one side and the glistening sea on the other.

Walking away from the beach and into the charming Lanes for dinner.

My gorgeous dinner, such an array of flavours and textures

Dinner at...
My favourite part was finding Plateau, a French bistro in the Lanes.
The food was fresh, tasty and imaginative.

We tried merguez for the first time ever, a salami-type sausage made of spiced lamb, typical of north African countries. Beautiful and strong flavour alongside a vibrant tomato salad, topped with almond pesto. By the way, I tried this almond-tomato pesto on pasta at home and it was such a new flavour!

Wines and ciders are sourced both locally and from France but they are all "fresh", in other words they are not as matured as your average bottle. It is a very acquired taste, not convinced it's the one for me, it felt a bit dry or rather harsh, but I am not one for dry wines anyway, so maybe not the best judge.

But then, everything else faded away as I had the tastiest skate roulade, filled with herby butter, served with caviar. There were so many textures and flavours complementing each other, all on one plate. We loved that place, it made us feel that we had popped over to France for dinner.
The Pier at dusk and right on the beach, the "active art installation" made up of colourful pebbles.

After dinner we strolled along the seafront on our way to the car. Such a difference.
It was 10:30 at night, there was hardly anyone there, the Pier lights were glistening in the dusk and we got the peace and quiet we had come here for. 
We walked down to the beach and sat there listening to the waves for a while, we just couldn't get ourselves in the car after such a lovely day of sunshine, fresh air and open sea!  

Pub In The Park, Marlow

No Summer Party is complete without a jug or rather... pot of Pimms!
The first event of the season! Here comes summer 2017! 
Organised by the talented chef Tom Kerridge, promising to gather foodies and BBC cooking show devotees to the quintessentially English riverside town of Marlow - Pub in the Park was created.
Tickets went on sale about a month and a half ago - they sold out within 2 hours!
I got a WhatsApp group going, just to make sure I bugged my friends enough, to get tickets on time. It worked! Six of us dissented to Marlow last Sunday afternoon to sample gastro-pub dishes by the river, in the sunshine!

Let's talk numbers... Tickets were priced at £40 per person, possibly on the steep side;  
All dishes cost £5 each, which I found sensible. We got around 12 dishes to try amongst the 6 of us, that's another £10 each plus maybe another £15 each for drinks. That's roughly £65 per person. Food for thought...
Plum Cider, for all sweet-tooth piggies, present company included!  
Aloo Chaat...by Atul Kochar, who has recently taken up the Compleate Angler in Marlow and I hear more and more satisfied customers recommending it lately. 

Sunlight in a bite - smocked haddock arancini!

My absolute favourite dish: Smoked Haddock Arancini with Egg yolk & Lemon pickle, by the Hardwick, delicious and creamy!
Most interesting dish: Malted Pork cheek Choux bun with Bacon crunch, by the Hand & Flowers - the choux bun was interesting, although a bit hard to bite into, but once you got past that, the pork cheek was a sweet and smooth surprise!   
Gotta have a curry: Aloo Chaat - a modern version, with fried potato chunks, by Atul Kochar!
Pity that some of the dishes had run out, even as early as the event had started. I wonder how that happened, the event was otherwise so well organised. We had all picked our favourite dishes in the taxi, on the way to the Park and had a plan for each of us to go get our favourites and then re-group and try a bit of everything; so, childish as we are, we were a bit disappointed that we didn't get to try what we had planned...venison chilli, pan-fried fois gras, all very popular and all very...finished!  
Most unexpected dish: Sweet and Spicy Korean Fried Chicken, by Galvin Hop - soft and crispy at the same time, sweet and spicy all in one go...oh yes, that was in the name!

What a clever open fire pit: smashed potatoes, barbecued feta, sea bream...all so smoky and delicious! Only, remember not to lean against it!  
Left: The Big Green Egg. Right: Barbecued duck and lettuce hearts
We got into a tasting session organised by the Big Green Egg, a company that sells interesting BBQs and fire pits designed for open fire cooking. All you had to do was queue up and be patient...sounds simple enough but when there is so much temptation around, time is of the essence!
We sampled duck and barbecued pork but surprise- surprise,  the best dish of them all was barbecued asparagus with grated parmigiana. Sh-moking!
After walking around the different stalls, we camped by the music stage and had the most un-co-ordinated picnic ever: Everybody kept bringing dishes and little local products from the stalls around. Mixing pork scratchings with chilli marmalade and charcoal cheese...hmmm ...washed down with Plum Cider, Mojitos and Espresso Martinis! What were we thinking?

My husband presented me with a block of charcoal cheese. He was so proud that he got me a gift! It could have been worse, he could have got me the Garlic Beer, so pheew!

Left: Goodies from Tom Kerridge's own pub, terrine with asparagus and spicy sausages with white beans.
Our camp-site in the sun and our un-conventional mess of a picnic! Special appearance by the Charcoal Cheese!  
There was live music until 11pm, by the Riffles, which kept us swaying and if you happened to see us reeling at some point, well, we are still proud of it! I would have loved to see Toploader on Saturday or Sophie Ellis Bextor on Friday too, but we got fireworks, so there! 

Marrakech Gardens

Follow me to...Marrakech!

After our fist attempt at navigating the Medina in Marrakech, I was left a bit overpowered. Yet, stubborn as I am, I was determined to get out there and see all of the marvellous and intriguing monuments that make up this city. 

My travels through Asia have taught me that if you are in need of some peace and quiet, head to ticketed monuments, they tend to be more relaxed once you are inside and you get the chance to look around without worrying about acting too obviously as a tourist.

So, once in Marrakech, we started at Bahia Palace.
The first thing to know about the Palace is that it is nothing like the western-style palaces; there is no impressive front and no towering elevations, as a matter of fact, the entrance is a simple gate with a walkway surrounded by orange trees.
Instead, the palace is a labyrinth of rooms built around little courtyards; the "Coeur de la maison" or "heart of the house", perfectly small microcosms of quiet and greenery. In a way the Palace reflects the centuries-old  lifestyle of Morocco. Houses are inward looking, they offer little escapes from the otherwise busy and commercial Medinas.
"Coeur de la Maison"...first courtyard we got to visit in the Palace, a little oasis of orange trees and birds singing.
One of the state rooms in the Palace, impressive fireplace, only to be topped by the intricate ceiling.
Afternoon sun through the Palace's windows...
We waited and waited for people to move on, so we could take this one... while waiting we had all the time in the world to examine the intricate floor, walls and ceiling mosaics...silver linings! 
Gorgeous, colourful Moroccan mosaics around the water fountain in another of the Palace's courtyards.

The Palace left us in a very calm mood, so out in the busy street of the Medina, into a taxi for the new town and onto the very different neighbourhood of Jardin Majorelle.

The new town of Marrakech could almost be a neighbourhood in any Mediterranean city, it did remind me a bit of Athens to be honest. So, we grabbed an ice-cream each and headed for the entrance...we certainly didn't expect the very long queue outside the gardens in Rue Yves Saint Laurent, which seemed to be particularly populated with some very fashion-conscious tourists. For a second I did think that maybe this is a different "Jardin" to the ones we are used to and that we should have dressed up... but then I realised that it was probably a nod to Yves Saint Laurent, hence they all looked ready to attend London Fashion Week, in contrast to the rest of us, trying to look respectable in the afternoon heat!

When I shared this picture on Facebook someone asked if this is a painting... fair question, we did spend a lot of time just staring at the colours, bold and relaxing at the same time - and no, this is not a painting. 

This garden is a sanctuary of all strange and unusual plants that you wouldn't normally expect to see together in one place: cacti of all sizes, colours and shapes, alongside bamboo lined paths and vibrant lilacs, bright yellows, all showing off in the afternoon sun!
This is a creation of Jaqcues Majorelle, a french painter, who moved to Marrakech in the early 1900's and made this plot of land his life's work. Then Yves Saint Laurent bought the Jardin in the 1960's and raised its' popularity, he even lived here in the villa that is now converted to a Berber museum.
I've always thought that you have to be a particular type of person to like cacti... there's something very independent and lonely about them. 
Left: the last afternoon sun-rays playing through the cacti. Right: One of Yves St Laurent's New Year's cards.

Yves Saint Laurent used to create his own collage cards to send to his friends every New Year, the cards were always themed around love. I'm going to leave you with this lovely thought... off for shisha and cocktails in the sunset, over Jamaa El' Fna.

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