Athens To Kefalonia By Sail

Join me day by day as I embarked on an exciting journey from the East of Greece (beside the Aegean islands) directly through the centre of the country’s mainland and out to the West side and the Ionian islands to Kefalonia.

My journey below has now been completed. Below is an illustration of the path we sailed.

Map

The purpose of the journey is to help bring a recently purchased Beneteau sailing yacht from current mooring just outside Athens on the island of Poros to her new home in Kefalonia. My trip will be aided by author Rod Heikkel in the excellent book Greek Waters Pilot.

Ever since knowing I would be taking this trip I have been really looking forward to the passage through the Corinth canal, a four mile narrow stretch of man made canal started in the 1st century AD and completed in 1893, it is to this day the only waterway which provides passage directly through mainland Greece.

As well as looking forward to travelling through the canal I am also intrigued by our imminent passage through the Gulf of Corinth which we drove alongside for the majority of our journey back from last years visit to Lefkada, in order to experience the different views of this beautiful mountainous area by both sea and land.

Poros Island

Poros Island and Church Tower

Day 1: Athens To Harbour On The Island Of Poros

After an early morning flight from London Stanstead to Athens we managed to take a quick trip to the summit of The Acropolis, the ancient citadel of Athens. I visited last year and wanted to return as it offers a quite breathtaking 360 view over the entire city of Athens standing at 150 metres above sea level.

Following our brief excursion we took a short taxi ride onto Athens port to catch one of their regular island hopping Hellenic Seaways ‘Flying Seacat’ catamaran type ferries to the Aegean island of Poros where our sailing yacht was waiting patiently for collection.

Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised to find Poros had plenty to offer; the dockside was well serviced with tavernas and there appeared to be several shops with plenty of sailing related equipment all of which sat infront of a steep facing hillside layered in a patchwork of white washed homes with a beautiful church and bell tower at the summit.

My travelling party of four just had time to unpack and eagerly inspect our new yacht before evening set in, the harbour at Poros looked just as appealing at night turning into a beautiful scene of starry sky, twinkling lights and neon restaurant signs.

We managed to find a popular nearby taverna where we ate a very pleasant dinner sharing a large seabass along with our hopes for the trip ahead. The highlight of our meal was perhaps the best yoghurt I have tasted, fresh that day it was served in an ice cold aluminium pot with a topping of quince compote, simple but delicious.

One thing which took me quite by surprise that evening was discovering the Greek obsession with basketball, nearly every taverna and bar in Poros was playing a match which the locals were eagerly watching with the fervour we Brits enjoy football.

Canal Entrance

The entrance to The Corinth Canal is in our sights

Day 2: Poros To The Entrance Of The Corinth Canal

Today we spent an industrious morning washing the decks, safety checking our equipment, tidying up all stored items, fuelling the yacht, filling our water tanks and stocking up on supplies for the journey ahead.

In the new light of day I was very pleased to be in such an appealing place and felt like we could have comfortably lingered a little longer here. The locals appeared very friendly in contrast to Athens where there seemed little good will, perhaps understandable given current tensions and the fact we were no longer in a busy city.

After a light lunch of Greek salad, freshly cooked local bread and a delicious medium hard cheese like Gouda (the correct name I will post soon) from a local deli we set sail for the Corinth canal.

Our path took us East around the mainland past a few unspectacular but pretty small and uninhabited islands towards the entrance of the canal which we reached comfortably by late afternoon.

It was a very pleasant start to the journey and great to finally have the wind in our sails. I managed to spot a flying fish at one point which was quite exciting as I hadn’t expected to see something quite so unusual.

Passage through the canal is controlled by an office which we contacted by CB radio ahead of arrival to check the available slots, we needed to do this as the canal is very narrow so vessels can only proceed in convoy in one direction at a time. We found the next crossing was going to be first thing in the morning and we were happy to sail to a nearby anchorage and toast our progress with a much deserved gin and tonic.

Day 3: Passage Through The Corinth Canal To Moorings In Kiato

We set off early today to make our way to the canal guards office which we moored beside and went in to show our paperwork and pay the passage fee which goes towards the rather expensive upkeep of the canal.

After a mere 15 minute wait we were ready to make our passage through the canal, which was just enough time for a brief chat with a friendly French family who we had anchored beside last night.

We agreed to follow behind them as we made our passage and you can see their yacht ahead of ours in the images above. It was a beautiful bright sunny start to the day as we made our progress through the canal. The water was gin clear in the shallow depths at the sides of the canal creating beautiful green and blue opaque windows where the occasional fish could be seen swimming along.

The real beauty of the canal however are the huge high narrow walls which make it appear as if you are sailing into a triangle and looking above to the bridges created some excellent photographic opportunities also pictured above. On several occasions we passed items of significant historical note including a small temple carved into the side and ancient foot holes towards the West Ionian side where you can imagine excavation of the canal began all those years ago. It is recorded historically that the Greeks and Romans drew up plans for the canal at the height of their empires only to be thwarted in their efforts by the difficulty of the task. The journey as a result feels a bit like visiting an ancient site and quite fascinating to see.

The journey through the tunnel was smooth and good progress was being made until we were around 5 miles out into the Gulf of Corinth when the weather turned for the worse and we were sailing directly into very strong winds. It was a bit of a reminder how fierce the weather can become and we were forced to motor to the nearest substantial port in front of the town of Kiato which fortunately has a significant sea wall for shelter.

Having driven past this substantial town before I was quite intrigued to stop here and have a look around. As we entered the port we could see a large modern Cathedral with a red tiled roof and quite a busy port with lots of yachts and locals out fishing.

I took a walk into town and found several nice cafes, deli’s and fruit and veg stalls which we bought some fresh supplies from but it isn’t really a place for tourists. On my return I walked past the cathedral just as people were leaving and it was nice to see lots of happy locals and a friendly community atmosphere.

We ate a very pleasant early dinner of chicken and vegetable casserole and hoped for better weather in the morning. If the weather is good i’m told it will be a 5am start so I need to stop writing now and get this posted.

Day 4: Kiato To Poros in Kefalonia

Having forecasted good weather ahead we had a really early start to the day setting off under the cover of darkness at 5am.

Our aim was to make as much progress as we could and despite the early start we were in great spirits with our adrenaline going for the exciting journey ahead.

The first hours sailing was eerily quiet with a gentle rising fog and quite poor visibility, the water was as flat as glass and the moon reflected in the water like it was a big mirror. My friend remarked this was the apparent cause of abandoned ships as delirious sailers began to think they could walk off the boat to their freedom. I thanked him for the encouraging chat and was pleased when the sun started to make an appearance closer to 6am.

Despite the rising sun the water still as flat as can be had a persisting fog but landmarks on either coastline were starting to come into view to give us something to look at as we motored along.

By 8am visibility was much better, I realised then that in the past three hours we had made significant progress already, largely helped by the calm waters. At this point we hadn’t past a single vessel and I was wondering when we might expect some company when all of a sudden a family of dolphins appeared in the distance jumping and playing together. It was a beautiful sight to behold and we were very fortunate when they decided to swim around us for what must have been at least 15 minutes. I managed to take some great pictures including a young dolphin leaping right above the surface.

Our journey continued largely peacefully as we took it in turns to helm the wheel until the afternoon when we began to approach the Gulf of Patras and the main Rio-Antirio bridge which links the Western side of the Greek mainland together.

By this point in the afternoon the wind had started to pick up a bit and we were now able to get our sails out which sped up our progress even further. By late afternoon we had passed under the bridge smoothly despite a much increased wind speed which caused us a few issues and having to navigate safely out of the path of a large shipping container by contacting the bridge office.

Once we had passed under the bridge we found the wind behind us to our stern which increased our progress yet again. At this point we had made such great progress that we found ourselves in the position of deciding whether we would like to continue out past the mainland all the way to Kefalonia or find somewhere to drop anchor.

After double checking the weather forecast was favourable we were all buoyed by the decision to press on and the excitement of reaching Kefalonia a day early. We therefore continued on out past the tip of the mainland which seemed to linger with us for a long time as we rounded it but great progress was being made on our charts.

As soon as we got into open water Kefalonia appeared on the horizon looking like a big black rock ahead to our bow. By this point it was around 7pm and it had already been a very long day but we were given a big boost by the sight of land.

Unfortunately by 8pm the wind direction had changed into a quite severe side wind which was pushing us North and slowing our progress. Nevertheless our yacht was having no issues with the now much more bumpy ride and we had committed to it so we just enjoyed the adrenaline ride.

Just past 9pm it had fallen quite dark and we still had around 6km to travel to the port also called Poros, coincidentally the same name as the island we started our journey from. By 9:30pm we spotted the flashing port lights which guided us safely in past the sea wall.

The port was very busy so we had to make do with mooring up stern to bow alongside the outer port wall but it was a great sigh of relief to be able to stretch our legs on dry land and go to a local taverna for a pint of Mythos beer and a late but well deserved dinner.

Day 5: Poros To Argostoli

After a decent nights rest from such a long sail we were happy to take a leisurely morning in Poros which was a pleasant place to stop with picturesque hillside views and a handful of restaurants, cafes and supermarket.

We set off around lunchtime for the final part of our journey which took us around from Poros on the East side of the island to Arostoli on the West.

The weather was much better today and we were really happy to get the sails out again and enjoy sailing. Kefalonia immediately provided more coastline scenery than our previous days with several beaches and mountain side villas to gaze at as we travelled.

We arrived in Argostoli by early evening with time and the light on our side and found a good spot to moor in the marina. Argostoli is sheltered naturally by the landscape and was immediately striking by how much larger it appears than any of our previous destinations.

From the marina we could see many restaurants and we also spotted a cruise ship so it became quite clear we had very much arrived in a holiday destination. On a quick stroll around the marina we managed to see some large turtles swimming along and speak to our friendly English neighbour who was sailing around the world but reluctant to leave Kefalonia which I thought to myself bodes well for our holiday ahead staying in Villa Kalliste known as arguably one of the best on the island.

Villa Kalliste Kefalonia

Villa Kalliste

Day 6: Villa Kalliste

Having now spent a full day at Villa Kalliste I can thoroughly recommend it to anybody seeking a luxury break in Kefalonia.

The villa is in a stunning position with elevated views out into the Ionian waters across a nearby vineyard and fields.

The garden and pool area is very tastefully manicured with herb beds, cyprus pines, honeysuckle pots, grasses and flowers and there is a separate terraced barbecue area away from the villa which will be perfect for late dinners and reading during the day.

View To Sea

The Villa Kalliste view to sea

Inside the villa there is an open plan kitchen, dining and living area which is well furnished with modern and Greek items. There are 3 large bedrooms 2 large bedrooms upstairs including a master bedroom and one smaller room downstairs also as well as a guesthouse which sleeps 4 so we are extremely well catered for.

The upstairs rooms in which I am staying has a generous balcony which was a lovely setting for this mornings coffee.

On arrival we met the expat owners Vincent and Denise who are really friendly and passionate about Kefalonia. They have a highly efficient team to look after guests and were seemingly able to cater for any request so I managed to obtain the most important details from them which to me were the names of all the best local restaurants. We started off by visiting one of the very best called Avithos Preview Taverna which had already been highly recommended to me during our trip.

The unassuming looking restaurant is situated overlooking Avithos beach a popular destination beach and is run by a friendly local called Panos Sarris and his family who serve fresh seafood and really authentic Kefalonian dishes of which my favourite was a simple but delicious dish of fresh prawns cooked in a well seasoned tomato and feta cheese sauce.

Panos is a trained sommelier and produces an excellent white wine, look for the Sarris label if you visit which has a large finger print on the label and their own Panchori olive oil which is also very good.

Panos proudly gave a copy of his family recipe book ‘Tastes of Kefalonia’ which has some wonderful recipes and explains the subtle differences with Kefalonian cuisine due to the islands history. I have had a quick browse and didn’t realise that he island wasn’t ruled by the Ottoman empire like the rest of Greece but by the Venetians and Francs so many of their dishes have some Italian and French influence which can be no bad thing.

No summer holiday related post would be complete without my top Summer 2015 essential fashion picks so I will leave you with an image of my favourite items this summer.

My favourite is a pair of swim shorts from impressive British designer Leo Joseph, this seasons range was inspired by his travels in South Africa which you can see with the elephant and tree pattern, the full range is available to purchase online.

The other essential item is the pair of sunglasses I took on the journey, I still don’t think you can do any wrong with the brand Illesteva and their Leonard frame, so I have swapped last years mirrored lenses which are now definitely off trend for a more subtle clear white tortoiseshell frame and dark lenses, available at Opumo.

Leo Joseph

Leo Joseph swim shorts and Illesteva sunglasses

Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it and I will be happy to answer any queries about Kefalonia and the sailing route we took via twitter @travellinggent

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Knife Skills for Gentlemen

I was introduced to Leiths School Of Food And Wine through a work colleague and I was suitably impressed to book one of their courses for myself.

They offer a range of enthusiast courses of which I chose ‘Knife Skills Chicken and Fish’, mostly because I love gadgets and have recently invested in a decent set of knives after being lured in by the stunning Blok Knives, partly by finding it uninspiring buying packaged fish in supermarkets, also as I often go salmon fishing and would love to put my skills to use when I catch the occasional sea trout.

I really enjoy learning new skills and the opportunity to use my new knives to correctly joint chicken, game and fillet and skin both flat and round fish seemed like a good way to spend a spare Saturday in April so I decided to take part and share my experience on GT.

The course was much easier to follow than I had anticipated and I was pleasantly surprised to see I was far better with a knife than I had imagined. With my original fears of showing myself up out of the way I started to really enjoy the course and was very impressed with our tutor Corrine an experienced chef who has worked at Scott’s Restaurant in Mayfair and a charming host.

The course started with some basic knife holding skills and tips to avoid losing your grip, we then learned how to perfectly joint a whole corn fed chicken which we were able to take home with us. Following this was my favourite part of the course as we were shown two fish techniques, how to fillet a flat fish which was lemon sole and a round fish which was sea bass. We were advised how to check if the fish was fresh but most importantly how to fillet the fish without wasting any flesh or leaving any bones and skin behind. We were also shown how to butterfly a fish which is a technique I will be practising on my forthcoming sailing trip from Athens to Kefalonia.

Butterflying Fish

A Live Demonstration On Butterflying A Fish

At the end of the course our small group ate a light lunch together of our freshly filleted sea bass with a salad and glass of wine, it was a pleasant way to finish off a successful course in which everybody seemed happy and conversation was flowing.

I would definitely recommend a quick course like this to anyone who wants to gain some much needed kitchen confidence and skills. It will certainly provoke more frequent trips to butchers and fishmongers for me where the provenance and quality of produce is undoubtedly far better than supermarkets. The course cost just £150 and can be booked online here.

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4 Things To Do In Lefkada

1. Sunbathe on Egremni Beach

Perhaps the highlight of our visit to Lefkas was the stunning Egremni beach. Having left behind not so pleasant weather in the UK it was simply breathtaking and hard to believe I was still in Europe to see such striking clear blue water and unspoilt sand.

Egremni Beach is located on the far South West tip of the island and was by far the most beautiful of Lefkada’s beaches. Driving in Greece alone is not for the faint-hearted but the island of Lefkada is something else, prepare yourself for the road to Egremni Beach. There are frequent winding cliff-edged roads just to get to the car park and for anybody scared of heights like myself there is nothing quite like driving towards the edge of an open cliff in order to park a car – I can assure you!

Once you are at the car park there is then the fairly substantial task of a 300 step railing path down to the beach itself. It is worth mentioning you really need to bring your own supplies as there is only one small beach bar and they have to go back up the path to bring you any food from the restaurant at the top.

Egremni Beach

Egremni Beach: Acres of perfect sand and crystal clear water

2. Lunch at Dimitri’s Taverna

Almost half of the male population on Lefkada seemed to be called Dimitri, in fact I saw another Taverna also called Dmitri’s the same day I visited here but you will know there is only one Dimitri’s when you visit here.

The taverna is not so easy to find and was a welcome tip from a friend, this is a family run restaurant located opened in 1973 in Paleokatouna near Nidri on the South East coast. Dimitri goes fishing every day and brings back his catch the menu is authentic Greek, simple, fresh, mostly seafood dishes which are well cooked and the service is extremely warm.

What is special about this place is that half of the restaurant dining room is on decking which juts out into a sheltered cove of flat sea which provides quite an intimate setting. A quiet lunch of freshly caught rock lobsters and Champagne with your lady would be a very romantic gesture indeed.

For bookings call the restaurant locally on 2645092227 or email dim taverna_geni@hotmail.com

Dimitri's Taverna Lefkada

View of Dimitri’s Taverna from the decking

3. Dinner in Sivota Bay Fishing Village

Sivota Bay is a beautiful small fishing village located towards the South East corner of the island which is extremely popular with the salty sea dog yachting community as it is a great place to moor up for the evening. There are several restaurants to choose from however we would recommend Spiridoula Taverna, known to have the best food and atmosphere. Just follow the deck shoes if you are unsure.

Sivota Bay

Sivota Bay early evening

4. Visit Land of Lefkas Wines

Worth visiting early on your travels to stock up on supplies is the vineyard come museum Land of Lefkas Wines.

This vineyard produces both dry and sweet white, red and rose wines using the native grape varieties Vardea and Vertzami which are only grown on the island.

There are daily tours and they have their own wine museum where you can see their antique wine production equipment. It is quite interesting to see how hand made but effective the tools were. Much of the island is very unspoilt and many people make their own small batches of wine so you can imagine similar tools are probably still in use today.

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GT’s Top 5 Make Your World Bigger 2015 Pledges

GT are delighted to help raise awareness for Discovery Channel’s Make Your World Bigger campaign by supporting their www.mywbcompetition.com microsite.

As part of their #MYWBPledge philosophy Discovery Channel is asking people to make a pledge to do something unfulfilled. Once you’ve drawn up your list visit www.mywbcompetition.com and you may see it realised.

Here at GT we support this campaign as it is encouraging the discovery of new things. Travelling plays a large part in that and Discovery Channel has long provided a brilliant platform to show people what the world has to offer. Who better to trust to realise desires that are often put to one side?

To help get the ball rolling here are GT’s Top 5 Make Your World Bigger pledges:

  1. Take a trip across a desert
  2. Dinner at Ferran Adria’s new London outpost
  3. A visit to Berlin for the nightlife
  4. Weekend Break in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  5. Catching my first Grayling on-the-fly

Make Your World Bigger

Visit www.mywbcompetition.com now to submit your entry and be in with a chance of having your pledge fulfilled.

All words by David Hamilton. This is not an advertisement feature.

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GT’s Best Of 2014

Best Of 2014 is a retrospective look back at my favourite items and experiences of 2014, a year which firmly reignited my childhood passion for fishing and included perhaps the best beach holiday I have ever had.

Best Hotel Experience

Four Seasons, Koh Samui. More small mountain village than hotel we were surrounded by forest overlooking a white sand beach in the Gulf of Thailand.

Best Dining Experience

Korobuta, Chelsea. Had a really memorable meal here reunited with friends in great spirits aided by a really well selected sake menu and their excellent Tuna Sashimi Pizza dish.

Best Experiences

Leaving a cold British January behind to attend a beach wedding in Koh Samui Thailand. Catching my first Salmon on the fly from the River Oykel in the Scottish Highlands.

Favourite Clothing Brand

Norse Projects. This Copenhagen based company creates seasonal collections which blend streetwear and classical workwear with high-end fashion.

Favourite Destination Visited

Benmore, Lairg, Scottish Highlands.

Favourite Album

Wild Beasts ‘Present Tense’. The bands fourth album is a masterpiece and you must listen to it. I will say no more on the matter.

Favourite Single

Rae & Christian ‘Happy’. Great new material from my favourite music production duo and an upbeat song that always lifts the spirits featuring vocals by Mark Foster.

Favourite Photograph

Benmore Lodge catching the sun over Loch Ailsh.
Pictured Above.

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The Quilted Shacket a Micro-Trend for AW14

I wanted to share a micro-trend that is making its way onto the backs of the stylish…

The Quilted Shirt/Jacket aka The Quilted Shacket.

Although this made its first appearance a couple of years ago, as with most trends, it needs time to develop its own mark.

It is a perfect A/W piece either as outerwear on a chilly Autumn morning or a cosy quilted layer in Winter. Easy to wear & easy to incorporate into a variety of outfits it is perfect as the temperate starts to drop & the number of layers needed increases.

Look for snap closes and chest pockets. Corduroy trim and contract collars.

Personally I find it’s a great way of making a dapper outfit more relaxed, which means I get to be immaculately dressed underneath and still retain an air of cool on top. I’m a fan of a juxtaposition, so my quilted shirt from Barbour is absolutely perfect. Other brands with Shackets worth a closer look are Mark McNairy as pictured above and J.Crew below.

So there you have it, The Quilted Shirt/Jacket.

Shacket

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Dim Sum at Shikumen, Shepherd’s Bush

I would like to share a brand new addition to London’s ever improving restaurant scene. This addition is the rather good Shikumen.

A quick look at their website reveals that Shikumen translates to “stone gate” and is a colonial style of arched architecture unique to Shanghai which apparently was de rigueur for the city in the 40s.

Upon arrival you are greeted by a friendly reception desk which can make you feel as though you have arrived at the nearby Dorsett hotel. Fear not, you are soon put straight and whisked into the restaurant by their efficient staff.

When inside there is a bar area with an impressive solid table carved from a single tree and a 40’s style gramophone. The restaurant itself is very large and spacious with an overall modern feel whilst displaying provincial artworks and for such a large restaurant the main central restaurant floor itself can feel more intimate than expected due to a clever use of a lowered floor.

My guest and I ordered a wide selection of dim sum from the menu which we were pleased to hear are all handmade along with some congee soup and tea.

Our favourites were the Cheung Fun wrapped around fried dough with was a delicious combination of soft and crunchy with a salty soy dressing, the Tianjin Goubuli Bun that featured the obligatory 18 folds (noted attention to detail) and the Chicken Taro Croquettes that had an unusual look and texture due to the taro that explodes as it hits the oil. All brilliant, all fresh and the ingredients were really top notch. Whoever is sourcing is doing a good job.

The dessert was almost the highlight of the meal. We opted for the Ginger Tea with Dumpling that we were advised wasn’t to Western tastes and all the more reason to try it in my opinion! (having said that the last time I did that it was duck’s tongue in a Thai restaurant which was as bad as it sounds). The soup consists of quite a strong hot sweet ginger consommé like broth extracted from pulping and steeping fresh ginger which must be able to cure a cold all by itself. Floating in the soup were three small soft white dumplings filled with black sesame seeds. The combination of ginger, soft dough and crunchy seeds was an absolute joy to eat and a brilliant stomach-settler.

In my opinion you will not be able to find better quality Dim Sum or Chinese dishes in London for this price.

Shikumen Taro Croquettes

Shikumen’s Taro Croquettes Dish

Cost of two courses with tea and a cocktail:
£25 per person.

Food:
9 out of 10 – the ingredients shone and a peek into the kitchen showed an army of specialist Chefs.

Atmosphere:
7 out of 10 – early days yet but the restaurant will be full soon.

Service:
9 out of 10 – very efficient and courteous.

Overall:
9 out of 10 – will be returning frequently.

Summary in seven:
One of London’s best dim sum options.

Details:
The Shikumen Website
Shikumen Shepherd’s Bush, Dorsett Hotel, 58 Shepherd’s Bush Green, London, W12 8QE.
Open: Mon to Sat: 12:00 to 23:00 / Sunday 11:30 to 23:00.
Tel: 020 8749 9978
Email: shepherdsbush@shikumen.co.uk
Book Online: http://www.shikumen.co.uk/shepherds-bush/book-online/

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Dinner at The Punchbowl, Mayfair

Popular Mayfair based pub The Punchbowl has recently had a bit of a makeover after being purchased recently by The Epicurean an attractive collection of Inns who look like they know their stuff. Having heard about this along with their new chef, GT decided to investigate and find out what’s on offer.

You may well know this place as the pub formerly owned by Guy Ritchie and therefore a favourite haunt of celebrities. Not having ventured in myself before I don’t have anything to compare it with for the makeover but what I discovered on arrival was a bustling pub full of happy customers and a newly refurbished modern restaurant upstairs. Above this on the second and top floor is a large space “The Club” used for private parties which despite my curiosity I didn’t venture into as it sounded like there was a private party in full swing.

I appreciated the restaurant on first impressions, it is a well furnished affair of around 30 covers, most noticeably the roof was painted gold with the effect of dripping down the walls upon which are hung several striking oil on canvas portraits of fashion models. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the modelling world but the waitress kindly told me who they were – aside from the ubiquitous Ms Moss I still have no idea!

The restaurant is quite open and looks into the kitchen area which also serves “The Club”, at first I really liked this and remarked that it feels like being in a very well decorated living room but at the end of the evening I would have perhaps preferred a degree more separation such as the use of a screen to give that bit of extra separation from the inner workings of a restaurant – that’s the atmosphere – the food on the other hand would be hard to critique.

The Punchbowl Interior

The restaurant Interior with gold ceiling

The menu is very well set out offering a good selection of honest traditional British dishes, in fact there is probably nothing I wouldn’t have been happy to order off it which is quite rare.

The food was very well cooked indeed, in fact it was near perfect, so I am sure that new chef Nathan Andrews who has experience from working in restaurants such as Petrus will be appreciated by customers new and old.

I had roasted scallops with slow cooked bacon to start with, the combination of flavours on the plate was very good and they were cooked perfectly. This was followed by beef shin and rump which came with truffle mash and a delicious bone marrow and red wine sauce, the beef really was fantastic quality and this was in my mind as faultless a beef main course as you can get. What is really clear is that the sourcing is excellent and Andrews real skill is allowing the ingredients to shine.

I will be sure to visit again.

Scallop Starter

Roasted hand-dived south coast scallops with slow cooked bacon, apple £13.50

Cost of two courses with a bottle of wine:
£50 per person

Food:
9 out of 10 – strong British menu cooked very well

Atmosphere:
6 out of 10 – can feel a bit like the overspill of the staff room when the restaurant is quiet

Service:
8 out of 10 – pleasant, chatty

Overall:
7 out of 10 – a good dining experience worth repeating

Summary in seven:
British dishes cooked as they should be!

Details:
The Punchbowl London
41 Farm Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 5RP.
Open: Mon to Sat: 12:00 to 23:00 / Sunday 12:00 to 22:30.
Tel: 0207 493 6841
Email: reservations@punchbowllondon.com

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The Pig On The Beach – Studland, Dorset

Well GT had a thoroughly delightful afternoon at The Pig On The Beach this week.

We arrived at The Pig via Poole and took the ferry across to The Isle of Purbeck. Purbeck is not strictly an island rather a peninsular but the four minute journey across the sea added to the magic of arriving at this turreted fairytale dwelling smuggled between a warren of country lanes, hills, beach and sea.

The building is a magnificent example of Victorian hideaway with turrets popping out of the gothic country house. The new owners have painted it yellow and sympathetically added extensions that are hardly noticeable from the original building. The fresh sea air blows gently around the property and there are magnificent views from both the restaurant and rooms that look out onto Studland Bay.

Inside the look is typical of the other three Pigs (New Forest, Southampton and Bath) from the Lime Wood group whose “focus is on authenticity and informality of design, food and service” and they have it nailed here with an almost film-set perfection of texture, colour and restrained opulence that never reaches trop. We want to move in immediately and live happily ever after.

The food is either grown in their Kitchen Garden (informal tours available) or sourced within around 25 miles of the kitchen. For lunch we sarted with the freshest oysters we’d ever tasted (really), some tasty ham hock Scotch eggs and a delicate ceviche of bass scattered with delicate flowers and herbs from the Kitchen Garden. For main we couldn’t resist lobster and chips x2.

The whole lobster was slightly blackened on one side from the chargrill and inside barely cooked giving an almost raw edge to the thick meat however thanks to the freshness it was unusual and delicious. The lobster was by far the most expensive main on the menu at £42 per portion. We wince now as it’s a little too much considering the current trade price, food miles, prep and cooking required but that’s what happens when you are at The Pig as you are whisked off into a fairytale where cost is an irrelevant factor in this tiny piece of priceless perfection.

Book for a few nights away. There are tonnes of local activities such as this, this, this, this and this, oh and this and this. Prices start around £120 per night.

Oyster Dish

Oyster dish at The Pig On The Beach

Typical cost of lunch at The Pig On The Beach:
£100 per person for us including SC. Ordering sensibly would halve this.

Food & Drink:
9 out of 10 – glorious menu but loses a point for the pricey lobster. They popped a cork on a fresh bottle of Bollinger at our request (£15/glass), perfectly matched a glass of Mâcon Villages (£11.50/large glass) to our meal and we WILL return for the Smoky Dirty Martini (damn you car).

Atmosphere:
The Pig makes people happy thanks to it’s magical charm. Just remember to book.

Service:
7 out of 10 – relaxed and quite attentive, some staff shone, others didn’t.
Tip: Don’t wear a pink shirt or you’ll be whistled over to clear plates and take orders.

Overall:
9 out of 10 – they lose a point for the similar lunch and dinner menus that could limit guest enjoyment.

Summary in seven:
Charming whimsical hideaway celebrating local food

Details
The Pig On The Beach
Manor House
Manor Road,
Studland,
Dorset.
BH19 3AU
Tel:+44 (0) 1929 450288

Can you recommend anywhere else? GT are always looking for new places to visit.

Image Credit on exterior photo: Joseph Williamson
with special thanks to ©Ski Club Great Britain http://skiclub.co.uk

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Afternoon Drinks At The Rib Room Bar

On two occasions recently I have found myself enjoying the surroundings of the Rib Room Bar on the ground floor of Jumeriah Carlton Tower hotel.

The bar may be somewhat under appreciated therefore I feel obliged to recommend it for afternoon drinks whatever the day. It is often tricky to find a good venue that fills THAT space for a few drinks during the day or similarly before you head on for the evening and The Rib Room fits the bill quite nicely.

Why should you go? What awaits you is a relaxed environment where you will more often than not be able to find a space for yourself or friends at the bar or at a table and if you are lucky somewhere on the small terrace.

Let’s start with the drinks. The 10 metre long bar itself dominates the room creating an attractive marble alter paying homage to fine gins and whiskies.

Gin fans are particularly in luck. On my last visit I took the time to chat to the barman Vicenco who proudly showed me their range of 19 gins and 10 bitters.

Initially I visited the bar on recommendation from a friend who raved about their cocktails and I do agree they are particularly good however if you don’t drink the virgin cocktails are also worth ordering. I tried an Orchard Breeze (apple juice, pear purée, soda water, ginger & cinnamon) (£8) purely because it sounded great, it was, and perhaps the best virgin cocktail I have tasted.

I shared a range of bar snacks including crispy boneless chicken wings with mango and black pepper caramel (£11), tiger prawns with soy, ginger and chilli (£14) and the extravagant and rather delicious crab and lobster burger (£22).

Rib Room Bar Burger

The Rib Room Bar’s Crab & Lobster Burger

Typical cost of three cocktails and snacks at the bar:
£65 per person

Food & Drink:
7 out of 10 – good bar food and excellent drinks

Atmosphere:
6 out of 10 – a bit too quiet for the room size (why GT is recommending)

Service:
9 out of 10 – polite and very helpful

Overall:
7 out of 10 – worth revisiting for excellent drinks and good bar food

Summary in seven:
Under appreciated destination perfect for afternoon drinks

Details
The Rib Room Bar
Jumeirah Carlton Tower
2 Cadogan Place, London, SW1X 9PY.
Dress Code: Smart casual
Telephone: +44 20 7858 7250
Email: reservations@theribroom.co.uk

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