Bistrot Pierre, Weston-super-Mare

Bistrot Pierre, Weston-super-Mare

I find it hard to love Weston. There’s has been millions of pounds of investment in the sea front, but you only have to move back a few streets and it is still very run-down and tired.

However, if you persevere, there are still some pockets of loveliness that can be found. Recently, I found myself there with some time to kill so decided to try Loves, which is a veggie-vegan place with great reviews…. and also shut the day I visited! So, where next?

I had been to Bistrot Pierre previously and had a perfectly acceptable salad so thought I would cut my losses and head there. If nothing else, it has fabulous views over the seafront and a nice chilled vibe.

The menu was a pleasant surprise with a few vegan options available that were also more intriguing than the usual felafel burger and mushroom risotto. I opted for the Miso Roasted Aubergine. This came with beetroot hummus and tabbouleh, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

The aubergine was soft and lightly spicy with the miso. The pomegranate worked perfectly and I am definitely stealing that idea! It;s just so nice to see the vegan option prepared with the same care. Just PLEASE stop giving sorbet as the only dessert option!

Vegan options: Three mains on the menu and pretty good ones – 4/5
Ambience: Nice chilled vibe, excellent service – 4/5
Value for money: 2 courses £12.95 – 4/5

Backwell House, Bristol

Backwell House, Bristol

I went to school in Backwell. Which means that for 5 years I rode the bus past Backwell House twice a day – and I never knew it was there. It still seems to be a secret, hidden gem in North Somerset which is a shame as the house, the grounds and the service are exceptional.

This beautiful 19th century house has recently been re-furbished into a luxury, boutique hotel. We have been here a few times for Sunday lunch and love it so much that my father decided to stay over the Christmas period (I think he enjoyed being lord of the manor immensely). I joined him for Christmas Day. The hotel retains a country house feel in the rooms, bar and restaurant area and was the perfect place for a traditional festive day.

The restaurant doesn’t offer a vegan menu as standard but were very happy to accommodate me and created a menu that felt luxurious and that they ensured I was happy with (my mandatory request to have roast potatoes and sprouts was definitely honoured!)

Xmas Day Vegan Menu

In keeping with the country house vibe, we were greeted with a glass of champagne and canapes on arrival. I’m not a fan of places where you can be made to feel uncomfortable by overly formal service and whilst the place oozes luxury and glamour, it never feels less that comfortable. So, a relaxing start.

Demitasse of Jerusalem artichoke, wild mushroom and truffle soup – a tiny teacup of velvety, luxurious soup to start
Cajun polenta wedges, with beans in a smoky tomato sauce – creamy polenta with a touch of heat for the starter
Fennel and Wild Mushroom Filo parcel, white wine and vegan chive cream (side veg was also served) – a creamy parcel filled with a variety of wild mushrooms and proper Christmas veggies
Chocolate Brownie with pistachio crumb, selection of Winter Berries with a passion fruit coulis dip – a deeply rich brownie cut through with winter fruits

Coffee in the lounge (with soya) rounded off a wonderful meal that was much more interesting than many vegan Christmas lunches I have seen advertised (and eaten). The strength of Backwell House is the location (the gardens are beautiful too), attention to detail and the perfect level of service. When this is coupled with a willingness to provide this standard of vegan food, I simply have nothing but praise!

Vegan options: Not as standard 2/5 (but 5/5 for the actual meal)
Ambience: lovely country house feel but never over bearing – 5/5
Value for money: This was part of a package with my fathers 3 night Christmas stay. Sunday lunch is around £30 for 3 courses – 5/5
Taormina, Sicily

Taormina, Sicily

Sicily is a fabulous place to visit if you are interested in history, beautiful landscapes and great food and wine.  Accompanied by warm weather even in October (when the crowds are much, much smaller!) and some beautiful beaches and architecture, it is a delight to spend some time relaxing and soaking up the laid back vibe of the island.  

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and one of the 20 regions of Italy. It has been a melting pot for a variety of different cultures and ethnicities from about 8000 BC which has contributed to the diverse and regional cuisines of the island.   

For my first visit we stayed in Taormina on the east coast.  The old town, full of restaurants, quirky shops and greek and roman architecture, sits perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, with breathtaking views around every corner.   Much as I would love to spend time recommending all the interesting places to visit, this is all about the food, which turned out to be surprisingly vegan friendly.

Here are my recommendations for eating well in Taormina (ordered by how happy I felt whilst I was eating):

La Zagata
La Zagata restaurant

La Zagara – my favourite place to eat (we visited twice in a week).  The restaurant has a separate vegan menu which includes some typically Sicilian dishes.    It is a nicely chilled place just off the main Corso Umberto and on the nights we visited it was busy with both locals and very excited vegan tourists! We ate Caponatina and Pasta Trapanese from the vegan menu (pop over to my recipe section to see my versions of these Sicilian classics).   The portion sizes were huge and both dishes packed the flavour in and felt really authentic. Sadly there are no vegan desserts but given the size of the portions, you probably won’t need one.


Pasta Trapanese
Caponatina at La Zagata
Ristorante Badia

Ristorante Badia – from the outside this looks like another touristy place, but trust me, head inside and you will find a truly Sicilian restaurant.  We visited on a Monday night and it was packed with locals – we had to wait for a table for a short while. The service is exceptional, it feels authentic without being overbearing and has that efficiency that you only get in places that really love what they do.  It might not seem that exciting to order pasta pomodoro as your main, but it is absolutely my favourite meal and I will always order it on almost any menu. This one was luscious, with a deep, smoky tomato flavour in the sauce and another huge portion of perfectly cooked al dente pasta.  My idea of heaven! We also ordered the potatoes with rosemary as a side dish (not that we really needed it, we just really wanted to try it). With a free shot of limoncello and a sweet mouthful of fruit with the bill, the evening could not be bettered.

Pistachio and coffee icecream

La Gelateria – this is a must for any vegan in Taormina.  Located on the main Corso Umberto, they offer a selection of soya ice creams which taste exquisite.  My Pistachio and Coffee was heavenly. Buy one and eat it in the palazzo a few metres away whilst people watching and enjoying those views.

The villa view on Isola Bella

Mendolina Beach Club – this beachside place is right opposite Isola Bella (make sure you have a paddle across to this tiny island before lunch) so you have wonderful views from their terrace.  As it was lunchtime, we opted for what we thought would be a light lunch of a sandwich – but being Sicily, this was an enormous crusty baguette, hollowed out and stuffed with a version of capotina rich with tomatoes and aubergine.


Rosamarino

Rosamarino – this restaurant is always cited as the place for vegans to visit in Taormina.   Personally, I just felt it lacked the Sicilian flavour punch of some of the other places I ate at.  I don’t think it helped that they had cancelled our original booking without explanation the day before and then had no record of our updated booking when we arrived.  Anyway, back to the food, I ate the spaghetti with mushrooms, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and black truffle flakes, followed by a lovely zingy orange cake with vegan cream for dessert.   For me though, the highlight was the fennel, caper and orange salad that I ordered with the main. It was a pleasant enough meal (with the exception of being shown the catch of the day on arrival) but maybe expectations my were too high.

Hotel Ariston was our base for the week. This 4 star hotel is perfectly located for walking to all the major sites and also to pick up local buses for your daily adventures.  It has a terrace bar with those fabulous views again and a small main. pool. The hotel offers a good range of vegan options at breakfast, with a small dedicated vegan/gluten free area.  There were plenty of non-dairy alternative milks for tea and cereals, fruit, salads, breads, margarines and some exceptional fresh squeezed orange juice.  

PS: One additional worthy mention is the quality of the bread you get with every meal.  Rustic and delicious, dip in Sicilian olive oil and enjoy.

Sicily, for me, combined all the things I look for in a holiday – that little bit of luxury whilst discovering a new place.  I hope to visit more of the island soon.

A lovely morsel – lunchtime on the beach, and we decided to visit the beachside restaurant by the free beach the locals use rather than the more upmarket restaurants near the tourist beaches.  We weren’t disappointed with delicious local wine and olive tapenade and tomato bruschetta, eaten overlooking the sea.

Tip – for affordable luxury, book yourself a lunch at that luxury hotel you can’t quite afford to stay at.  You can enjoy the facilities, have some lovely food and drink and have a good snoop about while you’re there.  In Taormina, we visited Hotel Villa Angela – on my bucket list due to my longtime love of Simple Minds (Jim Kerr owns it).   Sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine and views of Castelmola, Etna and the Ionian sea was the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.   They even gave us a free lift back to town in their shuttle bus.

Bristol – world culinary capital

Bristol – world culinary capital

I love to hunt out great food when I am travelling but it’s good to know that when I am at home I can find a fabulous meal too.  Bristol has already been recognised as the Vegan Capital of the World by the Chef’s Pencil website (which analysed Google search data to compile a list of worldwide places interested in veganism) but now I officially live in THE BEST CULINARY DESTINATION IN THE WORLD!

We Bristolians have known for a long time that the city has some of the most innovative and exciting food (including vegan offerings) around but now everyone else knows that too.  The Food Trekking Awards which celebrate ‘excellence and innovation in experiences for food tourism’ has awarded Bristol the title of Best Food or Beverage Destination of the Year at their ceremony this week.   So proud.

 

Tips for successful solo travel

Tips for successful solo travel

I love to travel with friends but when there is something in particular I want to see or I have a few days free, I may just go it alone. Here’s some of my tips for enjoying yourself solo

  • Don’t have breakfast in the hotel. It’s usually expensive and the choice is very limited. Find a nice cafe and enjoy people watching instead.
  • It is easy to use your phone or a book as a crutch when eating alone and I am sometimes guilty of this. However, I do my best to always try to be present in that moment – enjoy your food, take it slow, have a conversation with the waiting staff.  Just be.
  • Look! I get really frustrated by tourists who only see things through their camera lens. You may want to capture some memories, but LOOK first. If you go to somewhere like the Louvre, look up at the architecture and the ceilings not just the big hitter paintings. Beauty is everywhere.  You are on your own so don’t rush the moment.
  • Stay safe. If I arrive late in a city, I am going to take a taxi and suck up the cost. I don’t want to be wandering around with luggage and with my maps app open on my phone in an unfamiliar area.
  • Invest in a mobile phone charger. I learnt my lesson with a flat phone battery whilst abroad. A dash back to my hotel before the phone died and I got lost, was stressful enough but having to wait for the phone to charge before I could go off exploring again was frustrating!
  • Plan. Where I can, I buy tickets for any large museums, sights, events etc before I leave. This helps structure the day, plan your route and also means you skip the queues once you are there. The other advantage is if you have a wobble (what am I doing here alone? I feel lonely, sad, scared) you have a reason to get out and see something and it is ALWAYS worth it.
  • I love to walk in new cities as you are never sure what you will see.  However, being solo means you can sometimes try to do too much.  I may not stop for a break as often as I would with a friend. Be kind to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with resting and enjoying your luxury accommodation for a few hours!

Remember, this is your holiday.  Do what makes you happy. If that’s an afternoon reading a book in the local park – do it!

Sustainable Travel

Sustainable Travel

One thing I do struggle with is air travel.  How can you balance the environmental impact with a love of seeing different cultures and broadening your understanding of the world? There isn’t really a good solution, all you can do is try to minimise the impact. The ways I try to do this are:

 

  • Travel by train if it is just a short distance,  The Eurostar is a fabulous way to travel to Europe. British train travel is ridiculously expensive but in europe it makes a lot of sense.
  • Use the Atmosfair app “a German non-profit organisation that actively contributes to CO₂ mitigation by promoting, developing and financing renewable energies in over 15 countries worldwide”.  You simply plug in some details about your flight and it will tell you how much to donate to their projects to off-set emissions. My last trip to Paris cost me 10 euro.
  • Try to travel less, stay longer and contribute more to the country you are visiting. Eat local not in your hotel. Support those little health food stores that you stumble across.
  • If there is a business class option on your flight, don’t use it. The passenger footprint is much much larger for a business class passenger (bigger seats, more space per person, plus all those business lounges in airports). I flew from Bristol to New York on a Ryanair flight a few years ago – it was grim but I survived!
  • I want to explore sleeper trains as a way to cover a lot of ground comfortably in the UK. More to come on this.