Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne and the Bernese Oberland

Blog, Destinations, Switzerland, Travel

Geneva, in Switzerland,  is a short flight from Heathrow, and consequently, is easily accessible from the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe. It was my first time exploring this beautiful country, and I was not disappointed at all. Geneva itself, hugging the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), is a fairly cosmopolitan place by all accounts. But then, what would you expect from the city that is home to both the Red Cross and the United Nations? The Jura mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this lakeside metropolis, and the city itself is interesting enough with plenty of areas to explore.

Like in any city, street cafés abound where you can unreservedly indulge in a spot of people watching. Witness meetings between businessmen, couples enjoying each other’s company or maybe a pair of Swiss girls chatting excitedly in French in between cigarettes and food. To me, this is travel. It’s not just the places that you see but the people you meet.

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Before you go anywhere though, pop into the Swiss tourism office in downtown Geneva. I found the staff, especially Anna who just paid a visit to London herself, very pleasant and helpful. Bulk up on useful local info about this city on a lake, grab yourself a city pass which will discount a number of activities for you, and of course a free map on which the staff will indicate key places though the useful application of a biro. Chris, my travel buddy, and I emerged ready to explore Geneva’s altogether lovely and engaging tourist offering.

OUT & ABOUT

Bus Tour: No city break would be complete without the ubiquitous bus tour. This particular bus tour was informative and interesting but sadly not open-topped. C’est la vie… can’t have it all I guess. The bus will whisk you around various points of interest, including of course the UN quarter of the city, home to various wings of this world-famous organisation: UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR and of course the UN building itself. The final part of the tour is conducted, rather uniquely, on a land train down some of the more narrow streets.

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The Saleve: If you fancy something a little different, why not try a mini excursion up to The Saleve. A mini massif, just over the border in France, it affords amazing views across Lake Geneva and the city itself. Take a bus to the terminus, walk across the French border and ascend via a cable car to enjoy unparalleled views of the landscape below. It is well worth the effort indeed.

Boat Tour: No visit to Geneva is complete without taking a boat across, or around Lac Leman. It will certainly give you a different perspective on the city, and the boat tour I took was included in the price of the city pass.

Walking Tour of the Old City: This is also well worth doing. Old Geneva is fascinating, interesting and of course historic. You can wander around the old streets of Geneva, and in fact you should do – it’s immensely satisfying and relaxing. Strolling at your own pace, you can simply take in the sights and sounds of the old city. This is what holidaying is all about surely? We opted for the walking tour with an audio guide which was great. All the info you need right there in your hand and you can take things at your own pace. Perfect.

THE DAY WE WENT TO LAUSANNE

Well, it had to be done didn’t it? Hopped on a train we did and headed for that ultra-Swiss town of Lausanne. A train ride along the shores of sparkling Lac Leman on one side with row after row of vineyards on the other will bring you to this mini metropolis by the water. Like Geneva, Lausanne is interesting, historic and engaging. A climb up to the cathedral is well worth it (for the cathedral itself and the panoramic views across the city itself), so make sure that you include that in your tour, however brief.

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We even found time for a jaunty boat ride across to Evian, the home of spring water, on the French side of the lake. We didn’t really have the time to disembark, but the journey was worthwhile nonetheless. As we headed back, Lausanne loomed large on the horizon. Soon enough we found ourselves sat outside café & bar drinking a local brew. Like I say, travelling is all about the people that you meet and soon enough we found ourselves chatting to Pete and his buddies.

Turns out that Pete was from Cardiff, but had found himself in Lausanne some twenty years ago, met a girl and never left. Well there’s a story that has been repeated a few times around the world I should imagine. Pete seemed quite content with his life as an English teacher who regularly topped up his wages by busking on the street. Well, Switzerland is an expensive country you know. Soon, we were joined by his friend Christine and I somehow managed to end up paying for her drink. A chance encounter with the locals (ex-pats included); now that is travel.

THEN WE WENT TO GSTAAD…

On the final day of our trip, we decided to leave the sparkling shores of Lake Geneva, and head on up to the majesty that is the Bernese Oberland. We skirted by Lausanne, heading purposefully for Montreux where we would change trains and start the long climb through the beautiful Alpine meadows that are so typical of this part of the world. One Swiss chalet after another seemed to float by, as the train carried us inexorably up and up towards our destination. Eventually we arrived in Gstaad which according to my learned friend was an uber-posh Ski resort. However, since it was early April, it was a deserted uber-posh ski resort.

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After a quick visit to the tourist information centre, we were directed to the PostBus nearby that would transport us to the Aerial Cableway (very large cable car). The cable car runs every 20 minutes and takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the snowy peaks and ski runs of Glacier 3000. Halfway up, we stopped briefly only to be joined by a horde a skiers and snowboarders (unsurprisingly) and we were suddenly feeling very under-dressed.

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Actually, as we emerged at the top of Glacier 3000 Snowpark, I definitely was under-dressed because I was, well, basically freezing. However, the views are simply stunning and literally take your breath away (sorry about the cliché). Prepared to be dazzled by an array of no less than 24 x 4000m peaks including the Eiger, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. If you’re feeling daring and not afraid of heights, navigate the spectacular Peak Walk by Tissot between two summits – it is stunning. For more information on all this, check out the Swiss tourism website: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/destinations/glacier-3000/

No doubt there is much more you can do in this wonderful country, but I don’t think that is half bad as a starter for 10, don’t you? I invite you to come and explore Geneva, Lausanne, Lac Leman, Gstaad and the beautiful, stunning, incomparable Bernese Oberland. You’ll definitely be coming back for more!

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Hickory’s Smokehouse, Chester

Blog, Destinations, Food, UK

Well here’s a thing. How about sitting by the river, drinking in the local vibe and enjoying some scrumptious food to boot? If that appeals, then I advise you to head for Hickory’s Smokehouse sat on the banks of the serene River Dee in historic Chester.

So, new to the city and feeling hungry, I left my hotel and followed the signs down to the river, and duly discovered Hickory’s. And for a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing with young and old alike; which is always a good sign methinks.

The menu is varied, interesting and quite frankly – very appetising. Yeah they have ribs, pulled pork (of course), Texas Style Brisket, steaks, skewers, waffles, burgers and if you’re feeling really hungry – the truly awesome Smokehouse Platter. This dish cleverly enables you to try all their classics in one go. I however, went for the XXXL burger.

Inside the 2 creaking halves of your burger bun (skewered to keep everything together), you will find the following: 2 burgers, pulled pork, streaky bacon, gherkins, cajun onion rings, lettuce, tomato, their rather tasty house sauce and American cheese. This fullsome tribute to some kind of American culinary dream is accompanied by fries served in a mug and their very own coleslaw. This of course can be washed down with a refreshing chilled beer. Perfect.

Not content with dinner, I returned the following morning for breakfast and swerved around the usual temptation to go for the full English (I was still full from the night before), and choose instead the pancakes. Not just any pancakes though, but the Hickory Pancake Stack complete with Blueberry compote and cream.

This comes with a pot of maple sauce, the contents of which I used to saturate and envelop my pancakes with a sweet, sticky sheen. Anyway, the result was absolute deliciousness, and since they are served all day, there is no excuse not to try them. Of course you can always come back later and go for the lunch menu which advertises 2 courses for £10.

So, if haven’t cottoned on yet, I’m recommending you come here when you’re next in Chester, or anywhere nearby for that matter. The location is great and the staff are real friendly too, which all adds up to a winning combination. Great for the food scene and great for Chester.

The Riverbank Bar Bistro, Bideford

Blog, Food

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Situated at the ‘East of the Water’ end of the ancient Torridge Bridge in Bideford, you will find The Riverbank Bar Bistro. Chef Proprietor James Priestley is at the helm of this foodie venture, and by the sounds of it, he’s carving out his own niche right here in North Devon. James moved down from Yorkshire and has been living locally for over 2 decades, acquiring The Riverbank 2 years ago. He’s friendly, approachable, but professional and ably assisted by a small but effective team.

The Riverbank, as you would have guessed by the name, sits right on the banks of the River Torridge, and with a sundeck to the rear you can observe the very same river slip silently and peacefully by. On a sunny afternoon, with one’s favourite tipple in hand and in the company of friends or indeed a loved one, I would imagine it would be utterly delightful.

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Invited to partake of the inaugural Greek Night for 2018, my appetite was already whetted as I prepared myself for my very own Hellenic odyssey. It’s not every night you can sample some tasty Greek food in North Devon now, is it? I asked James about his inspiration for holding Greek nights at The Riverbank, and he said: “I was lucky and privileged to have worked with some top Greek chefs so that is where my passion comes from.”

With glass of chilled beer in hand, I dived straight in and ordered the Garlic and Lime Chicken Kebab, which is described as a ‘Char grilled chicken kebab with garlic & coriander sauce and salad leaves.’ Well all I can say is that it did exactly what it says on the proverbial tin, so to speak. In fact the aforementioned chicken kebabs were nothing less than deliciously garlicky, limey and full of flavour. Other starters on offer were, Keftedes (Spicy Meat Balls) and a Traditional Greek Salad.

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Next on the menu, was the Marinated Chilli Salmon Fillet. In the menu I read this: ‘Marinated for 12 hours in chilli, coriander, garlic, citrus and honey.’ The highly marinated, and perfectly cooked salmon was laid upon a bed of Mediterranean rice and served with warm pitta bread accompanied by juicy wedges of lemon and lime on top. This was most satisfying and like the starter, looked thoroughly tempting on the plate.

Alternatively, I could have chosen a ‘Greek Butterfly Sirloin Steak,’ ‘Beef Stiffado,’ or even ‘Oven Baked Greek Chicken Breast.’ Admittedly, I’m no expert when it comes to Greek cuisine (sadly, it’s been 14 long years since my last Hellenic adventure), but I reckon this is a jolly nice offering for the people of North Devon, and makes a refreshing change. The menu overall was fairly compact, but I think there was enough on offer to tempt most palates.

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Not exactly Greek, but I concluded my night with a delicious homemade chocolate brownie (lovingly created by James’ wife, Vicky) with a pot of clotted cream, both situated at the opposite ends of a long, narrow plate with a winding river of chocolate sauce in between. I was by this stage imbibing a sumptuous glass of Argentinian Malbec, which is described in the notes as: ‘Fair Trade and Organic, lovely rich chocolatey Malbec with structure and spiciness from the Bonarda.’ I think that sounds like a pretty good match to me…

I would judge the evening to be a great success, and would certainly consider returning in the not too distant future. I definitely recommend that you check this place out as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! Greek nights in 2018, are every Thursday, April to September.

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Psalter’s Restaurant @ The Luttrell Arms

Blog, Food, UK

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The Luttrell Arms Hotel is situated in Dunster, a rather splendid medieval village in beautiful West Somerset. Enclosed within the ancient walls of this 15th century hostelry, is the Psalter’s Restaurant. I was invited to stay at the Luttrell by Head Chef Barrie Tucker, with a view to trying out the culinary offering. Barrie, locally born, is very much at the helm of the brigade of chefs there, and is the driving force behind the food on offer.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon, after a not so long drive from North Devon, and was immediately impressed by the professional, courteous manner of the staff. I was at once ushered to my room, interestingly called Rodney (he wasn’t in there thankfully), and I soon found myself relaxing within my sumptuous and spacious surroundings.

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My accommodation was supremely comfortable, with a vast queen size bed, sofa, reading chair, writing desk (how thoughtful), TV, and of course a lovely, modern en suite bathroom. I would say that Rodney was a mixture of modern decoration and antique style; and jolly nice it was too. I felt like an absolute king peering out of my second storey window over the historic Yarn Market below.

Having earlier spent some time unwinding in the bar – not far from the fire, I navigated my way eventually to the Psalter’s Restaurant, whereupon I was ushered to my cosy corner table. The menu was most definitely stimulating, offering a really good choice of varied and appetizing dishes.

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Not wishing for the grass to grow under one’s proverbial feet so to speak, I quickly selected the wine for the night, which of course is the altogether superb Malbec – having an ‘explosive red berry nose with chocolate and soft vanilla notes.’ Sounds like a meal all by itself…

Now for the food. I opted for the Pheasant and Cranberry Terrine, followed by Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce. The terrine was beautifully presented and prepared, resembling a work of art. It really looked fabulous on the plate, and tasted equally delicious too. I considered this a perfect way to begin the evening, and I couldn’t wait for the next course.

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The Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce arrived shortly after. The beef was rare, and I’m not sure that there was a choice with this, but either way, the two slices of beef draped across my very stylish graphite colour plate were melt in the mouth delicious. The attendant pepper sauce, with a hint of sweetness, was quite unlike anything I had ever tried before and extremely moreish.

Keeping the beef company on the plate were spinach, wild mushrooms and fondant potatoes. A very tasty, balanced and mouth-watering offering. All the while, this was being washed down with my ‘Hefty, deep fruited’ Malbec, making this a somewhat enjoyable experience.

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My dessert choice for the night was Treacle Tart with Lemon Curd and Lemon Curd Ice Cream. This was not as overpowering as it sounds, but was in fact a delicately balanced finish to a wonderful evening. When you’re cooking at this level, it’s not always about strong flavours but something a bit more subtle.

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The next morning, on the way to breakfast, I checked out the terrace overlooking the compact courtyard, which in turn leads out to the lovely Secret Garden overlooking the grounds of Dunster Castle. In warmer weather, this would be a marvelous place to eat and drink. I eventually exited the Luttrell arms after an immensely satisfying Full English Breakfast, containing hog’s pudding and potato cake. I think anyone who stays at the Luttrell will honestly have little to complain about, and will find it a very refreshing break.

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The #EatExmoor Food & Drink Trade Show

Blog, Food

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Wednesday 7th February sees the inaugural Eat Exmoor Food & Drink trade show, at the Beach Hotel in Minehead. The #EatExmoor initiative is a joint project from the Exmoor National Park and Visit Exmoor; the tourism authority for this special area. Local producers, chefs and hospitality providers are invited along for a day of networking, cooking demonstrations, informative, interesting and helpful talks about how to maximise your business, in and around the national park.

The day will also be celebrating the launch of the #EatExmoor Guide and the #EatExmoor Marketing Toolkit. So, if you are connected to the hospitality industry in the Exmoor area, you know where to come: The Beach Hotel, Minehead 10-4pm. Click on the link below for the day’s programme of events.

The #EatExmoor Food & Drink Trade Show Programme of Events

The Royal Oak Inn, Winsford.

Blog, Food
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The Royal Oak Inn, Winsford. Image courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography

Sat in the bay window of the charming Royal Oak in Winsford, near the log burner and of course the bar, it’s easy for a feeling of contentment to wash over you. Winsford is not a village on the main road, so you need to take a bit of a diversion to get there, but it’s well worth it.

There has been an inn on this site for possibly over 800 years, and present owners Mark and Sally Bradley, have been here for 4 of those years. David Sylvester, the talented and hard-working Head Chef, is a local guy and has lived and worked in and around Winsford for over 27 years. And for much of that time, David has worked at the Oak. Which is why, no doubt, it is a watering-hole of repute.

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Head Chef, David Sylvester. Image courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography

So onto the food, because that’s what we came here for. The Oak has an interesting and altogether inviting menu, including the intriguing homemade filled bread rolls, such as: Roast Beef & Horseradish and Prawns in Marie Rose Sauce. At £7 each, I would say they were definitely worth a pop.

Other delights on the menu to be found are: Steak & Exmoor Ale Pie – Homemade Proper Pie with Mash or Chips and Trio of Park Sausages, Grain Mustard Mash with Rich Onion Gravy. David also offers his discerning clientèle a range of 7 homemade desserts, truly refreshing when so much of what is offered these days comes straight out of the freezer.

However, it was to the offering chalked up on the specials board above the fireplace that I was irresistibly drawn. After no small amount of deliberation, I opted for Roast Lamb Rump with Rosemary Jus. And I have to say that this was an excellent choice.

The locally sourced Exmoor lamb from a butcher in South Molton was succulent, delicious and generous on the plate, and with the accompanying Ratte potatoes, rosemary jus and ring of cress encircling the meat, it was also perfectly presented too. The main dish was attended by a generous helping of buttered vegetables.

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Roast Lamb Rump with Rosemary Jus

The thing about this dish is simplicity. There was nothing pretentious about it; it was simple, beautiful, full of flavours and textures and most of all, filling. The cost of the meal was £17 which was good value for money I think in a hostelry such as the Royal Oak.

It soon became quite busy during the lunchtime, which is encouraging considering that this lovely old pub, as previously stated, is somewhat out-of-the-way and we are well outside of the holiday season for Exmoor, in the lull after Christmas. With David at the culinary helm, I think the Royal Oak is set for another busy and fruitful season.

 

Woods Bar and Restaurant, Dulverton.

Blog, Food

If you ever find yourself in Dulverton, no doubt you will have noticed signs that proudly proclaim that you have now arrived at the gateway to Exmoor. True enough I’m sure, but instead of driving through, you should take some time to stay awhile and explore this charming little Somerset village. And if you are looking for food and drink, and shelter from the cold, then look no further than Woods Bar and Restaurant tucked away up Bank Square. Sit yourself cosily by the bar and the open log fire, and you’ll find it hard to imagine a greater level of enjoyment on a chilly, December afternoon.

Ed Heard has been the Head Chef at Woods now for about 6 years, and has certainly made his mark here in this perennially busy bar and restaurant. Ed is certainly a prolific, local talent, and he is very ably assisted by both Lloyd and Louise in the kitchen. The waiting and bar staff are friendly and professional too. Woods has a delightful ambiance, and I recommend that you visit here when you’re next in Dulverton.

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I arrived just after midday, and the restaurant was pretty much empty. However, within a very short space of time, it soon filled up and was packed to the gunwales with hungry customers. Woods was then replete with that pleasing hubbub that you get when you have a room full of happy, relaxed people.

Having ordered a local ale, my attention turned to the menu. Filled with delights such as the Northcombe Lamb Burger, with Cheese and Barbecue Sauce, or the Slow Roast Somerset Pork with Black Pudding, I was irresistibly drawn to the very seasonal Roasted Pheasant Breast, Fondant Potato, Sprouts, Chestnuts, Wild Mushrooms and Wholegrain Mustard Veloute. And at £13.50, I would say it represents remarkable value for money.

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I think the first thing to say about this dish is delicious. I know that might sound stunningly obvious, but it just was. Oozing with flavour in fact; the kind of flavour that just makes you want more and more. I can’t say that I’ve eaten a lot of pheasant in my time, but think after this little culinary wonder, I think I might be eating it a lot more in the days to come. Whether or not future pheasant dishes served in other restaurants live up to this high standard, we shall just have to see.

Presentation? Loved it. Colourful, interesting, different and not overpowering. So, adding together delightful, cosy, rural Westcountry ambiance, friendly staff, great ales and a knockout, value for money seasonal dish, I would say that was a jolly big success. Well done to owners Paddy & Sally and Chef Ed Heard and his team. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m sure we’ll all be happy for eons to come!

Give my regards to Broadway!

Blog, Travel, UK

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Nestling on the western edge of the Cotswolds, Broadway is a must-visit destination if you are in the area. Why? Because it’s beautiful, and it simply oozes English village charm. In fact, it’s almost too perfect and too twee for its own good, but I just love it. It’s got lots of those lovely, unique kind of shops that magnetically draw you inside, inviting you to part with large sums of money for no real good reason at all – except for pure self-indulgence of course.

We came across a chocolate shop, a sweetie shop (selling a seemingly endless variety of sweets), and a lovely wine and gin store tucked away up a side street. A visit here was required of course, and after much chat with a chap called Dan around various drink related topics, we succumbed to the temptation to sample some of the shops wares. The whole experience proved to be immensely satisfying.

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Broadway is a little gem, of that there is no doubt. One look inside the estate agent’s window will solidly conform this fact. So if you should find yourself meandering towards Stratford-upon-Avon, as we were, I would encourage you to pop in and have a jolly good look around. You are bound to find something that takes your fancy!

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The Pyne Arms, East Down

Blog, Food

The Pyne Arms in North Devon is situated in the beautiful and peaceful hamlet of East Down. Run by couple, Ellis and Amie Pannell, this gastro pub is now most definitely on the proverbial map.

I called in last Sunday on the off-chance of a spare table (booking is advised), and I was suitably rewarded. Glass of Moretti in hand, I scoured the menu but it really didn’t take long before I settled on the day’s dining choice. 

I opted for the ‘Heal Farm Rump of Beef (locally sourced of course), Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish.’ What emerged from the kitchen was perfectly cooked slices of beef draped over fluffy roast potatoes, alongside a rather large Yorkshire pudding. Accompanying this mouthwatering plateful, was a colourful selection of five vegetables, imaginatively presented to tempt and tease the palate no doubt.

The Pyne Arms at East Down certainly gets my vote  and I shall be returning soon I am sure…

The Dunster Show

Blog, Food, News

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On Friday 18th August, the 171st Dunster Show will be held once again in the fields nestling behind Dunster Castle. Always a great success and highly enjoyable, this annual Somerset country fair is set to attract thousands of visitors once again. And there will of course be a cookery demonstration organised and led by Chefs Andrew Dixon and Olivier Certain. Joining them this year for the second year now will be Ed Heard along with newcomers to the cookery demo, Ellis Pannell and Barrie Tucker. See you there!

http://www.thedunstershow.co.uk/

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