Hablas Espanol? No? Me neither, but I wished I did. No really, I used one of my precious birthday wishes on it, but I think perhaps the cake and candles weren’t big enough as sadly I didn’t magically wake up with the ability to rattle off a conversation in Spanish. So until the language gods bless me, I must rely on the handful of words I know, all the essentials like ‘please, thank you, wine, anchovies’ and a certain someone’s slightly more advanced vocabulary which also includes asking for a table for two and the bill.
While our conversation skills aren’t particularly advanced, our menu-deciphering abilities have definitely improved… just goes to show what the focus of our trips are! This was our third visit to Spain; we loved the food in Barcelona, we loved the food in San Sebastian, and Madrid did not disappoint. We went a little more upmarket on this trip, visiting not one, but two fancy pantsy Michelin star restaurants, bringing our 2015 total to eleven!
Hooray, it’s finally the 29th of December! To you it’s probably just another uneventful Tuesday or one of those days between Christmas and New Years which just blend into each other, but for me it’s always a bit of a special day. Today is my birthday! And just to top it off, it’s also the start of our holiday… today we’re jetting off to Madrid to keep up our ‘spending my birthdays abroad’ tradition, and then we’ll be heading to Morocco for a couple of weeks.
After months of early starts and late nights, manic days in the office, snappy weekend getaways, and the excitement of the silly season, both a certain someone and I are really looking forward to having a proper break so we’re ready to face the new year! But before we jump ahead of ourselves, I thought I would insightfully reflect on the year I was twenty-eight… that lasted all of twenty-eight seconds so instead, I sincerely reflected on all the delicious things I’ve eaten and the wonderful places I’ve eaten them in! Much more fun than those serious thoughts about where I might be in five years… so here goes…
Has anyone else noticed that everyone is talking about the ‘F-word’ right now? There’s great debate over what it actually means, and it’s not only the women bandying it around, men are getting in on the action too. I’ve never used it to describe myself, but I guess I am one… so here goes, I’ll admit to you that I am a feminist. Though I would actually prefer to describe myself as an egalitarian because equality for all is actually what we’re striving for, right? Growing up in the ‘girls can do anything’ generation, it blows my mind that it was once commonplace to think and even proclaim that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. However what renders me even more speechless is the contradictory stereotype that it was only a kitchen in the home, the professional variety was still a man’s world. What the?!
Luckily the earlier stereotype is almost completely erased and I’d like to think we are making inroads with banishing the second one but we’ve still got a way to go. While watching this year’s Great British Menu honouring the Women’s Institute, I was a little disappointed to see less than a handful of female chefs competing and only one getting through to the finals. According to Great British Chefs, of the 169 Michelin starred restaurants in the UK right now, only eight are headed up by women, even with my poor grasp of numbers I know that’s a teeny tiny percentage. But it’s still an improvement on the year before so with my ‘girls can do anything’ attitude I have faith it’ll keep growing.
We’ve all heard and shared our own gripes about National Rail, the usual ones being lateness, overcrowded carriages and just how bloody expensive tickets can be, so I thought I would go against the tide and share a National Rail win! When we first arrived in the UK, we decided to visit friends in Scotland, at the time of agreement, we didn’t quite realise it would involve a train from London to Edinburgh, a tight change from Edinburgh to Pitlochry, then finally another change to Dunkeld and Birnam. The first leg ran late, which meant we missed the second leg, which meant the third leg was a total write off.
We were going to put it down to bad luck but a staff member suggested we apply for compensation, so we did it and next thing we knew we had over £300 worth of train travel at our disposal. With time running out to use them, we settled on a weekend in York: a dose of culture at the stunning York Minster, a walk on the city walls with stops at any other attractions we stumbled across, and dinner at The Star Inn. That was the original plan, but as you know my greedy Michelin star hunger got in the way and the weekend was extended…
Right now there are 169 Michelin starred restaurants in the UK, 66 of those are in London. If my insatiable hunger had its way we would visit one every week and approximately four years later, give or take some new additions, we would eventually tick them all off the list and most likely be bankrupt. Let’s be frank, we’re not made of money so even one a month is a bit lavish so what were we thinking tackling three in three days?!
I was thinking ‘heck yes, this is going to be a delicious trip’, and a certain someone was thinking he really didn’t expect to be accommodated at all three of our shortlisted restaurants at such short (less than a week but would you expect anything less from us?) notice. Turns out that despite their Michelin star status these Yorkshire restaurants required a lot less advance booking than their London counterparts; I suspect this has everything to do with the fact they are in rather idyllic but remote locations, as the quality of the food and service was outstanding.
I talk a lot. I love a good natter, can spin several yarns, have been known to embellish a little, digress a lot… basically I love telling stories. If you’ve been following along you might have guessed this already, while those who actually know me will no doubt be nodding your heads in agreement. Ask me what I thought about that restaurant we went to last night or where we ate during our weekend away and you’ll rarely get a simple ‘good or not’ or recited list- there’s always a silly tidbit or memory because it’s always more interesting that way.
This story starts like so… last Friday night I took a certain someone out for a birthday dinner at a surprise location, a much-lauded establishment that has been on our hit-list whiteboard for some time- Restaurant Story. This is where I usually launch into my tale before telling you about the dishes, what we liked, what we didn’t, what we would eat again, you know the drill, but the truth is, I am lost for words. The theatrics of the Full Story experience, the military precision with which we were served, the creativity of the food, the meticulous beauty of each plate, my story telling skills have been trumped by those of chef Tom Sellers.
One of my worst character traits is that I am a ‘first impressions’ person. They may not matter to you but for reasons unknown they seem to matter to me, and within the first thirty seconds of meeting someone, arriving somewhere, or trying something new I have decided whether or not I’m a fan. And if I’m not I’ll stick with that view until proven otherwise so it was probably a good thing I decided not to go into legal practice- I’ve got that whole innocent until proven guilty thing all wrong haven’t I?
It’s an awful trait I’m very aware of and now I’m older and wiser, I’m a little less mean girls and a little more forgiving. But once in a while old habits die hard and there comes a time when you’re truly tested, most recently on our visit to Alimentum. Power walking down traffic laden Hills Rd, I checked Google maps several times to make sure we were on the right track, I hoped that once over the rise the landscape would transform to the leafy Cambridge I was expecting, it didn’t. From the outside, Alimentum reminded me of the overpriced but not overly good cafe at the bottom of your apartment block, where you go when you’re too hungover to venture further than your front door; but at this point I’m reminding myself not to judge a book by its cover.