Bellinis and Focaccia in Venice

6 Jun

We’d had Bellinis before, but never in Venice, home of Harry’s Bar, the  place where the cocktail was invented.  We didn’t really have the money to afford Harry’s Bar prices, but then we couldn’t afford not to either.

Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar, first created this sweet, bubbly mix of peach puree and sparkling wine (traditionally Prosecco – which, in sparkling wine terms is to Italy what Cava is to Spain) sometime between 1934 and 1948 we were told.  The dates are a bit vague, but then maybe he celebrated his invention with a 14-year Bellini bender?

Inside the bar – where Ernest Hemmingway used to hang out, as did Bogart and Bacall – it’s all butterscotch hues and polished wood, elegantly faded, like many of its customers.

Star-struck, we spotted the actor Kenneth Branagh, born in Belfast, our home city.  If it’s good enough for Hamlet…

The Bellinis were delightful, but set up behind the bar in a production line ready to be topped off by the fizz, so we didn’t feel particularly special or decadent.  But then, the bar is on the tourist trail, and it’s hard to recreate the allure of 1930s Italy for 21st century backpackers and weekend wanderers.

Tourists are often told to avoid Venice in the summer, when it’s not so much a case of see Venice and die, as smell Venice and die, as the heat added to stale water in the canals is said to create a signature aroma.  It’s a hotly debated topic, with some saying its reeky reputation is a thing of the past, now that the canals have been cleaned up.

Our reason for choosing winter over summer isn’t to do with odour at all, but with ambience.

In winter there’s a eerie mist that settles over the canals and on our gondola ride (expensive, but when in Rome…or Venice, and all that) we found ourselves enveloped in an atmospheric haze.

Earlier that winter we’d stuck a pin in a map and come December 31 we found ourselves in St Mark’s Square for some very noisy impromptu fireworks amid a throng of tourists and locals chanting the countdown to the New Year.

Strolling back to our B&B at 2am we had the inevitable munchies, brought on by cheap Prosecco and an over-exuberance when it came to jumping up and down hugging strangers at the stroke of midnight.  We needed food.  So did everyone else it seemed.

The narrow cobbled alleys fanning out from St Mark’s Square boasted one sole open late-night bakery offering takeaway snacks, its lights drawing the revellers like ravenous moths to a particularly bountiful culinary flame.

We queued – and queued and queued – until we counted out the remains of our Euros and handed them over, to be presented with one of the best meals of our lives – mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, with ham and lettuce,  on fresh white focaccia bread.  Few things before or after have tasted so good.

Sometimes it’s not what you eat, it’s also when and where you eat it that counts.

The classic Bellini cocktail recipe:

2 parts dry sparkling wine (usually Prosecco)
1 part fresh peach purée
Pour the puree into a chilled flute and slowly top with sparkling wine.

Got (camel) milk?

26 Mar

Got (camel) milk?

By Andrea McVeigh

Camelicious brand camel milk, from Sharjah, UAE

“We are on a mission; what is our mission?” said my tour guide, Asad.

“Mission impossible?” I volunteered.

“No, it’s not impossible, this is possible, just tricky.  Let’s go,” Asad urged as we drew up outside Sharjah’s central souk. “Let’s find a camel.”

We didn’t need to find a camel, just a supermarket.  We were on the hunt for camel milk.

Sharjah – one of the United Arab Emirates’ seven emirate states and a neighbour of Dubai – is a dry country which means the sale of alcohol is forbidden.  Non-alcoholic cocktails are abundant, and very well-received in the dry Arabian heat, but I wanted to try something I couldn’t get at home.  And camel milk wasn’t anything I could find in my local branch of Tesco.

Our mission had been joked about and talked about the previous day.  It was proving more difficult than Asad expected.  Sod’s law was proving that when you go to look for something you can’t actually find it.  The first supermarket we tried only had deliveries of it twice a week, and the day we arrived wasn’t one of them.

Eventually though, Asad turned up at my hotel with two plastic bottles of Camelicious camel milk.  And I don’t think he had to resort to milking a camel for them either.

It looked like milk, but this wasn’t like the semi-skimmed liquid I was used to.  It’s less fatty than cow’s milk, so it’s popular among people with high cholesterol and on a health kick.

The lower fat content also gives it a taste and consistency a bit like skimmed milk, but with a strong aftertaste – not exactly bitter, but sharp.

I drank it, but I couldn’t get the image of camel udder out of my mind – not exactly the most pleasant of pictures.  I drank, not so much with gusto, but out of politeness.  So what does it taste like?  Some say it’s mildly salty, but I didn’t get that, just a sharp aftertaste a bit like the stronger brands of soy milk.

I didn’t hate it, but I don’t know if I’d have it again.  But if it’s good enough to have sustained the Bedouin nomads for thousands of years, who am I to start getting the, er, hump in a taste test?

So could it prove popular in Europe or America?  Every few years the Press run stories that suggest it could be the newest superfood – high in potassium, iron and zinc as well as vitamins C and B, and low in cholesterol.

In July 2010 the BBC reported that the UAE has been pushing for the EU to accept imports from its camel farms.

Camel milk chocolate is also being produced in the UAE.  So move over Daisy – Humphrey the camel could soon be taking your place on supermarket shelves.

But why stop at chocolate?  Camel milk ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies, yogurts, cheese and butter could all benefit from the Camelicious treatment.

Now who’s for a cuppa?  One hump or two?

A Revolutionary Way of Dining

15 Jan

by Patric Baird

Whoever suggested that eating on the move was bad for you would probably make an exception for the diners in a revolving restaurant – what could be more relaxing and enjoyable than watching an ever-changing panorama while eating dinner?

I’m a big fan of the revolving restaurant, almost to the extent of choosing a holiday destination based on whether there’s a revolving restaurant, or at very least a tall building with public access to a 360 degrees viewing platform – there’s no better way of getting a feel for a place than going high above its trees and buildings.

Indeed, it was recently announced that the restaurant at London’s BT Tower would be reopened after 40 years, in honour of the 2012 Olympics, but will apparently remain in a fixed position, possibly due to the mechanism becoming inoperable due to lack of use.

The Germans invented the concept in the late 1950s at a time when they were building a lot of television signal transmitting towers, with the Florianturm in Dortmund being the first fully functional example.

The first rotating eatery in the United States was the La Ronde restaurant, located at the Ala Moana shopping centre in Honolulu, opened in 1961, but quickly losing its unique status to the restaurant at Seattle’s Space Needle.

An important pre-requisite for a revolving restaurant is that it offers a good view – there’s no point building one in the middle of the desert, or in a dreary, featureless town.

My first experience of the spinning-while-dining concept was at eastern Berlin’s Fernsehturm, a wonderfully space-age building constructed in the mid-sixties and offering fabulous views over the once-divided city – I imagined it must have been difficult for diners before the wall came down, literally seeing how the other half lived in the decadent western part of the city, whilst tucking in to a plate of turnips or whatever else was on the Fernsehturm’s Soviet-era menu.

Whilst in Asia – where most of the world’s revolving restaurants are now located – an evening visit to Kuala Lumpur’s revolving restaurant at the Minara telecommunications tower was quite spectacular, both for the fine buffet of local delicacies and the added bonus of an almost biblical, tropical thunderstorm kicking off half way through dinner.

A very different dining experience took place at Reykjavik’s Perlan restaurant – located only on the fifth floor, on top of the city’s landmark hot water storage tank system, the views are not exactly stunning but then Iceland doesn’t boast too many skyscrapers.

I would have been able to see more were it not for my eyes watering, no doubt caused by the prices they were charging for the food and drinks – but then where else can you eat something as sublime as sea hen with cloudberry sauce?

My most recent experience of a revolving restaurant took place at the rather unlikely destination of a Marriott hotel, near Muscle Shoals in Alabama.

It was most notable for the fantastic food, probably the best I have been served at an abnormal altitude, although the after dark views of a fairly sparsely-populated area suggested that a daytime visit might have been more rewarding.

Other memorable, but slightly less successful forays into finding the perfect revolving restaurants included a trip to Prague’s Zizkov Tower, unfairly voted the second-ugliest structure in the world by VirtualTourist in 2010.

Although the dining experience was a stationary one, the journey to the outskirts of the city on a snowy winter’s day was atmospheric and memorable and the tower itself was one of the most unusual buildings I have ever seen, not only for its unique futuristic shape, but for the bizarre sculptures of babies crawling up the tower’s walls, added by artist David Cerny in 2001.

The city of Rotterdam missed a bit of a trick with its Euromast – an imposing structure, but with a disappointingly-stationary viewing platform half-way up (complete with a brasserie and several hotel-style suites which are apparently popular with honeymooners), as well as a rotating capsule which ascends to the top of the tower, offering excellent views of the city.

Unfortunately the other attached eatery – much like Larry Sanders’ sidekick Hank Kingsley’s ‘Look-Around Cafe’ – was on the ground floor but, unlike Hank’s ill-conceived project, it doesn’t actually revolve.

However, the biggest disappointment of all was Bratislava’s Kamzik television tower where a much-anticipated visit to the 70m tall Veza revolving restaurant ended abruptly with a hastily-scrawled note on the entrance which read “Closed for lunch”.

Pisang Ambon and Patat Mayonnaise in Amsterdam

25 Nov

By Andrea McVeigh

“Trust me, it’s what the locals drink,” said my friend Sean, as he ordered us two Pisang Ambon with orange juice – a staple in Dutch bars in much the same way we’d drink vodka and orange in the UK and Ireland.

Amsterdam may be famous for its doobie-tooting tourists and space cake- selling coffee shops, but we’d staggered along to a gay bar near Dam Square, fuelled not on cannabis but on alcohol alone.

Don’t ask me exactly where the bar was or what it was called.  We may not have been on the wacky baccy but, as they say, if you can remember Amsterdam then you weren’t really there.

Sean worked in the airline industry and benefited from the perks of the job, in this case a fridge full of the mini champagne bottles usually served to business class passengers, which we drank on the tram from his apartment into the city centre.

It wasn’t quite a case of ‘I liked it so much I bought the company’, but I did buy a bottle of Pisang Ambon to bring home from the trip.  And I’ve been drinking it ever since, even creating my own cocktail around it – the Sans Souci.

This banana-flavour Dutch liqueur (pisang is Indonesian/Malay for banana while Ambon is the name of a former Dutch colony) is also bright green, so there’s no mistaking it, even when mixed with OJ.

As for what best offers sustenance after a boozy night out in Amsterdam’s gay bars, I’d discovered Dutch street food years ago as a child, on a family holiday to stay with an aunt who lived in Den Haag/The Hague.  My eyes were opened to the most exotic use of potatoes I’d ever come across – patat met (with) mayonnaise, served in a sturdy paper cone.  A CONE!

These tasty fat chips – patat frites – come topped with a dollop of creamy yellowy mayonnaise, best eaten with your fingers or the little coloured plastic pronged forks provided, on a late summer evening as the crepuscular chill that signifies night-time slowly advances.  Back in the late 1970s, my family, struggling with the Dutch language, dispensed with the ‘met’ and took a liking to our ‘patat mayonnaise’.

Most cultures, I later learnt, have their own way of doing chips.

The Americans have skinny, salty French Fries.  The Scottish, in particular those in Edinburgh – arguably only those in Edinburgh – favour the flavour of chips with salt and sauce (a mix of brown sauce and vinegar).  In Ireland and the rest of the UK and it’s chips with salt and vinegar.

In Holland, you can opt for ‘patat zonder (fries without) mayonnaise’ but really, what sort of patat-hating, anti-gourmand would skip the mayo?

For some unknown reason, in my family we were unable to get our Celtic tongues around zonder, and took to calling it ‘patat nee (no) mayonnaise’, on the grounds that nee even sounded a bit like no.  The Dutch, being kind, generous, civilised people, ignored our crude and sloppy translations and luckily recognised fellow-potato lovers, and served us anyway.

As for my own Pisang Ambom cocktail creation, it was named after a street my husband and I used to live in when we were still boyfriend and girlfriend: the exotically-named (for Northern Ireland) Sans Souci Park.

Translated, sans souci means ‘without care’, or carefree; so the cocktail is perfectly named considering it was thrown together without much care, based on what alcohol was close to hand at the time.  However, the results, even if I do say so myself – and I do – are delicious.  And after a few Sans Soucis we do feel decidedly carefree.

It came about, like all the best concoctions I think, by raiding the drinks cupboard and pouring in varying measures of whatever we had that looked vaguely suitable.  The result, in my humble opinion, was a triumph that we still drink, and serve up to friends at parties, to this day.

I’m not a stickler for recipes and so the rules are there to be broken.  Below you’ll find my favourite combination of ingredients, but feel free to substitute at will – I sometimes add lychee liqueur if we have any in the house.

Andrea’s signature cocktail: the SANS SOUCI

one shot of Pisang Ambon
one shot peach schnapps
one shot malibu
one shot vodka
one shot lychee liqueur (optional)
orange juice to flavour

Serve in any glass you want (I favour a long, tall straight glass with a straw and ice cubes).  Drink.  Enjoy.

Tipple Tip – Frangelico hazelnut liqueur

28 Sep

If we ever, in the course of our tipsy shenanigans, get stopped by the police, we have the perfect excuse.  “Sorry officer, but a monk made us do it.”

One of our favourite tipples is Frangelico – the Italian hazelnut liqueur that comes in a bottle shaped like a monk’s habit, with a rope belt around his waist (a nice touch, although we’ve never found a way to recycle it, preferring instead to use it to make mini catapults).

We drink it as an apéritif, a digestif, a main course in its own right, a treat, a sympathy drink – let’s just say we could easily drink a whole bottle, one genteel  liqueur glass at a time.

Its silky texture and rich nutty taste make it perfectly palatable to sup neat as an alternative to Bailey’s, in a shot glass with a single ice cube to chill, or in coffee as an after-dinner drink.

The bottle boasts that the 20% vol. drink is made from wild hazelnuts, herbs and berries although the list of ingredients states sugar, alcohol, hazelnut extract, caramel E150d and a mysterious ‘flavourings’.  The website offers this: “A number of natural extracts – including cocoa and vanilla – are blended with the hazelnut infusion and hazelnut distillate to create the Frangelico concentrate.”

On World in a Glass’s travels we’ve come across an excellent Frangelico-based cocktail, which perfectly highlights its comfort-giving qualities, and adapted a mocktail to suit our own libationary tendencies.

On a recent Azamara cruise we discovered one of the ship’s speciality cocktails, a Passion Ice Creamy – Frangelico and creme de cacao dark mixed with ice cream.  Practically a dessert in a glass.

Earlier this year, staying in the Spice Island Beach Resort on the Caribbean island of Grenada, we ended each evening with one of its speciality Run Down mocktails (blended seamoss, coconut cream, banana and nutmeg) to which we added a shot of Frangelico.  Total sleep-inducing loveliness and the perfect post-meal relaxant (although in the Caribbean they say mineral-rich seamoss is an aphrodisiac).

We’ve since found online recipes for making an alcohol-free seamoss (also called Irish moss or carrageen) drink, as well as an online shop which sells Caribbean products to the UK and Europe, but we made life easy for ourselves by picking up a bottle on leaving Maurice Bishop International Airport.

The Spice Island’s signature drink, which is offered to each guest on sweaty, travel-harassed arrival from the airport, is the deliciously crisp and fruity, and very, very welcome, Spice Island Classic – a subtle combination of champagne and sorrel syrup (not the herb, but rather the extract of a flower from the Hibiscus family).  But we think the Run Down with added Frangelico (A Tipsy Run Down?  A Run Down and Out?) could give it a run for its signature status.

The Frangelico website has its own list of cocktail recipes including the Nutty Irishman (Frangelico and Carolans Irish Cream).  Let’s just say, hailing from the Emerald Isle as we do, we’ve certainly met a few of those in our time.

Lychee Fanta and Roti Canai in Penang

21 Sep

By Patric Baird

The Malaysian island of Penang – famously a melting pot of religions and their various cuisines and, rather less famously, the place of my birth.

For the first time since departing as a six-month old baby, I found myself not only back on Penang, but outside the maternity hospital where I had been born exactly forty years ago, almost to the minute.

I thought it would be quite funny to make a pilgrimage to the actual spot where I took my very first breath of hot and humid air, but I suddenly felt strangely at home on the island after four decades of absence.

After spending a few nights in the capital city of Georgetown, staying at the colonial-style E&O hotel where I had also spent my last night in Penang as a mewling infant before my family boarded a boat back to Blighty, we relocated to Shangri-La’s fabulous Rasa Sayang beach resort at Batu Ferringhi (foreigner’s rock).

Days spent lazing by the hotel pool, or gazing over the Straits of Malacca were but ways of killing time before the sun finally set and Batu Ferrringhi’s main attraction, the Global Bay food court, opened for business (sadly since our Penang trip, the Global Bay was bulldozed to make way for a petrol station – a crime against culinary humanity!).

Even after dark, the heat and humidity were stifling and there were only so many cold bottles of Tiger that I could stomach.

I spotted my saviour from dehydration on a stall on our second visit to Global Bay – Lychee-flavoured Fanta.

Bear in mind that at the time of this discovery, I had only ever tasted orange and, much less often, lemon Fanta (too bitter for my tastes).

You either like lychees or love them.  Nothing else is acceptable in my book as they are clearly the fruit of the gods, with their delicate perfume and sweet taste.  Admittedly, they also look like diseased eyeballs.

Paired with another food court discovery, the roti canai (pronounced channi), the combination actually became the sole reason for a return trip to Penang several years later.

I had been advised by my big brother, well versed in Malaysian cuisine (having lived there until the ripe old age of six) to look out for roti canai as the experience, as he remembered it, was almost other-worldly.

Best, but inadequately, described as pancake-shaped bread fried in butter and offered as either a sweet or savoury option, I invariably chose both with curry sauce-dipped and fresh banana-filled rotis making up a two-course evening meal for the remainder of the trip.

Roti for dinner and roti for dessert, washed down by lychee Fanta – it may not be fine dining, but it was certainly fun dining.  And well worth waiting forty years for!

Making Tracks Through Arizona

19 Sep

The rock 'n' roll Chevvy hire car

Every road trip must have a playlist.  Our rules are simple but strict – each song has to namecheck either the state/country or a city/town/place in that state/country.  No generic ‘on the road’ songs, Hit the Road Jack or American Pie or anything like that.  For American road trips, Route 66 mentions numerous locations, and for the ultimate cheat, there’s the fabulous Johnny Cash version of  I’ve Been Everywhere.  Driving from Tombstone, via Tucson and Phoenix to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, here’s what we listened to on our ultimate Arizona playlist.

The Eagles – Take it Easy (standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona…)

Beatles – Get Back (Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona…)

Glen Campbell – By The Time I Get To Phoenix

Wilco – Hotel Arizona

Chuck Berry – Route 66 (Flagstaff, Arizona…)

Mark Lindsay – Arizona

Johnny Halliday – Monument Valley

Public Enemy – By The Time I Get To Arizona

Scorpions – Arizona

Steve Miller Band – Rock’n Me (I went from Phoenix, Arizona…)

Kings of Leon – Arizona

Marty Robins – Big Iron  (he was an Arizona ranger…)

Marty Robbins – Ride Cowboy Ride (Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff, Phoenix)

Waylon Jennings – Hey Willie (go back to Phoenix for a far brighter day…)

Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Readymade (deep down in Arizona…)

The Coasters – Little Egypt (she had a picture of a cowboy tattooed on her spine, saying Phoenix, Arizona 1949…)

For official AZ tourism info visit: Arizona Tourism

We stayed in these hotels and we loved them:

Tuscon Westin La Paloma
Grand Canyon Plaza Resort
Hyatt Regency Scottsdale (Phoenix)
The Boulders Scottsdale (Phoenix)
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (Phoenix)

Coconut Wine and Hot-Dogs in Honolulu

18 Sep

by Andrea McVeigh

I love coconut.  I love wine.  So a combination of both?  In a bottle?  On New Year’s Eve?  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything that comes from combining wine and coconuts, it seems.

December 31 2010 in Honolulu and the coconut-shaped (natch) bottle of Royal Chief Coconut Wine was calling to me with its ‘wine from the water of young coconuts’ come-on and 12% alcohol volume come-hitherness.

We hadn’t even opened it and I was planning how to transport bottles back to Ireland for what I was sure would be the Best Drink Ever!  Or fly to the Philippines where it’s produced.  Or sell my soul to buy more of this sure-to-be delicious tipple.

The web site says it’s perfect as a gift.  For someone you don’t like maybe.

We picked up the bottle on the way back to our hotel from a pilgrimage to PukaDog, Waikiki, on the Anthony Bourdain trail (he visited it once in an episode of No Reservations) for Hawaiian-style hot-dogs.

Puka means hole in Hawaiian, and these Polish-style doggies (meat or veggie) are slipped into the hole in a specially-baked bun and filled with a choice of four secret-recipe sauces (mild, spicy, hot and hot-hot) or one of seven relishes or standard condiments.

We hate choices, so faced with pineapple relish, banana relish, guava mustard and more, the Hubby and I went for, in hot dog terms, the vanilla option – Sweet Maui Onion Relish and a mild Garlic Lemon Secret Sauce.

And anyway, I was being adventurous with my coconut wine, right?
Well, I would have been if I didn’t have a Hanna-Barbera ‘took a slug and spat it back out again pulling a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp’ moment back in the hotel room.

Some people must like it, but I’m thinking they’re the sort of people who could take to drinking methylated spirits through an old sports sock.  Harsh, tart and not at all the sweet coconutty treat I was expecting.

But hey, it was New Year’s Eve and after the champagne had been drunk on the beach and we ran into the sea to welcome in 2011, we staggered back to the hotel and, needs must, discovered that mixing it with fruit juice and vodka made it almost palatable when you’re already 90% blotto.

See, there’s an upside to everything.  Even coconut wine.


1 Sep

where we’re from

We are Patric Baird and Andrea McVeigh and we love travel, we love food and we love drink – and we love it when all three of these things are combined!

We’re married to each other, based in both London and Belfast, with a wealth of  passport stamps under our ever-expanding belts.

We’ll be writing about the places, people, food and drink we discover on our adventures.  Come on and join us y’all – the drinks are on us!