Wishing ALL a very very merry Christmas and a peaceful 2011

Xmas 2010.jpg

May it be a wonderful white, snowy Christmas to all in UK………

But, not till after I get on that plane and am up in the skies! Call me a grinch, I don’t care anymore!

Friday morning. As I was uploading photos, I looked out of the patio doors.. eek.. big, white cornflakes. And settling. Closed up the flat and raced out the door. The carpark was white. The car was skidding as I reversed out. Fumbling for the remote control, the gates gently opened…. thank you Terry, from the concierge. Islington was actually looking pretty and I didn’t have time to enjoy it.

The drive to Cheltenham was not pleasant. A repeat of January 2010 crossed my mind but you know what, been there, done it. The CLC Xmas concert was fabulous. With Stephen Parham-Connelly (ex-Kings Singers), now head of Voice, the difference was just phenomenal! The canapes and Prosecco were pretty good and Vicky Tuck was as ever, regal and composed. Totally agree with her, the girls certainly had worked hard, both on the music and walking up steps in “ridiculously high heels”. Part of the core curriculum at the Ladies College!

Saturday morning. Even more “eek”. It was white and getting more white. Our eagerly awaited annual breakfast at Hotel du Vin did not seem appetizing any more. We headed straight for St Austins. Asking for an early leave of absence is something I loathe to do. Missing Vicky Tuck’s last Service of the Nine Lessons was not on the agenda. St Austin’s breakfast certainly has improved but then again we are talking 30 odd years on!

The weather was closing in and the snow, unrelenting. The A40 Cheltenham to Oxford was bad. Cars slipping and sliding. Putting the Desperate and the Nervous on the same road is never a good idea. Good samaritans abandoned their cars to help push stranded cars ahead. A lovely gesture of Christmas goodwill.

By Oxford the windscreen wipers were so heavily crusted snow and ice, the strain on the motor was painful. Had I known what falling snow and falling temperature was about I wouldn’t have been so eager to offer my charitable bit. Even the anti freeze spray was freezing and having left my gloves and hat at the flat in haste, I really wasn’t equipped for the job. It didn’t get better. Jack knifed lorries, queues of cars on uphill runs and people pushing them. The M40 had not cleared overnight. It was so dangerous with mounds of snow between lanes. Not one snowplough in sight. NO police in the SEVEN hours of driving it took us to get from Parabola Road to Hanger Lane!

If that wasn’t enough… Sunday morning, 5am. Got up to check on Heathrow. Flight was scheduled for 10.55am. No snow. A good sign. Getting through on the phone to the airline was not so good. Ended up ringing Singapore to be told that they were on schedule. Hmm, fishy, but hey, KIASU rules the world on that little island. WRONG.

Taxi was waiting at 7.30am. By 8am, the slip road into Heathrow was jammed.. some ‘clever clog’ had decided shut down the traffic lights and every set was on RED. NO cars were allowed into the airport. Except for the service tunnel (no lights). Terminal three was like a third world refugee camp. Passengers were lying on the floors with the courtesy foil blankets handed out by Virgin the night before. Not a member of any airline staff in sight. Well, maybe in mufti – “they walk among us”. No information was offered. Queues began forming everywhere (we’re British!). By 9am, Security began to stop passengers entering the terminal. The shouting and yelling began. Getting out was a problem and certainly no one allowed in. A complete shamble. After a rather expensive phone call to Singapore (again) we were told to go home.

Spent a lovely day, in the warmth of HOME, organic spag bog (homecooked, of course) and even managed a walk to Putney with my daughter for some fresh air before we start ringing Singapore tonight. Surprisingly no alcohol whatsoever in the last 48 hours.

So…. MERRY XMAS to everyone…..

The First Sake (making) Challenge

Hatched, one autumnal evening, in the basement of SO – probably Soho’s finest contemporary Japanese dining house. Hidden in London’s Warwick Street, four hungry mortals, feasted on the new season’s plump mackerel sushi – “Saba-no-Bozushi”, washed down with a bottle of fabulous prosecco. As ever, there is never enough (the bubbly, I mean). I gingerly whipped out the bottle of homemade rice-wine, knowing this humble offering would be competing with that bottle of Bartolomiol DOCG. Four clean glasses and an ice bucket appeared. More food arrived. We eagerly anticipate while the ubiquitous bottle chills gently. At last, tasting portions poured.

The moment of truth. Hama-san, in delight exclaims, “SAKE, SAKE”…. not quite “Eureka” but good enough for me and so the event was born….

A firm fixture is set in the calendar.

A wonderful evening commencing with a toast of thanks to Riccardo for the pre-dinner glass of delicately delicious Prosecco Riccardo Treviso. Chilled to Japanese perfection (of course) teasing the palate before a hard night’s work of tasting and judging 15 bottles of sake style rice-wine. Traditional Japanese dishes to accompany the sakes.

A bottle of  “Everybody’s” sake, made at the group demonstration (8 weeks earlier) was also entered. Challengers included (in alphabetical order):
  • Hideki Asano
  • Marie Cheong
  • Tetsuro Hama
  • Jun Hirakawa
  • Sue Hunt
  • Machiko Jinto
  • Satsuki Kurisawa
  • Naoko Ozaki
  • Kaoru Takaishi
  • Akemi Yokoyama


sakesgalore.jpg The bottles entered in the challenge.

Menu of the evening:



Fresh oyster with daikon, garnished with a single sprig of raw samphire or sea asparagus. A delicate plump morsel, marinaded in grated daikon. So fresh, you could almost taste the sea. Matched perfectly with the Prosecco Treviso.




Pairing of a piece each of tofu and cheese in tempura batter. Yin-Yang, East-West. A lovely palate teaser of eastern “cheese” and western cheese, delicately dipped in tempura batter and deep fried to perfection. Crisp on the outside, flavour filled on the inside. The soy dressing just balanced and complemented the different texture and taste of each cube.





A two fold tasting of tuna carpaccio, a brush of olive paste with chive dressing and a light pastry straw with homemade smoked salmon cream cheese with keta (salmon caviar).





A hen’s egg filled with a pickled plum stuffed steamed rice mochi. Topped with a single egg yolk delicately marinaded in a miso mixture.


Tonburi & avocado salad.

Seeds of Kochia scoparia eaten as a food garnish called tonburi. A delicacy (chinmi) of Akita prefecture. Its texture is similar to caviar.





Sushi platter including nigiri of squid and prawn with gari (pickled ginger). Uramaki with salmon, seaweed and avocado.















The sake champion of 2010 with the prized bottle of  Cartizze



A big thank you to Riccardo Tomadin who so kindly sponsored the Prosecco Riccardo and the prize bottle of Cartizze to the overall champion sake maker. Also a massive thank you to SO rsetaurant for making this event possible.

All proceeds from the demonstration evening (Oct10) and a proportion of profit from the dinner was donated to Kids for Kids.


Down Under … Tahbilk, Tahbilk … so good they had to say it twice!

Air Qatar gets my vote of approval. New planes, great pilots and phenomenal service. Even the stopover in Doha was painless with it’s fast-track queue for rapid transit passengers. Almost 24 hours later we arrive in Melbourne. Not quite a journey I recommend but flying over the most amazing fishing area of Exmouth Flats, 1000 miles north of Perth made the journey all the more worth it. Nothing to see as it was dark as we flew past but we vowed we will make a homage later this year for a REAL fishing extravaganza. Watch this space.

Chadstone and Glen Waverley were much the same. Boxhill and even a WestFields shopping centre exists down under. Visited the huge Dan Murphy’s inspecting all the bottles at close range. What a fabulous choice of wines the Aussies have! Had a great time practising Hokkien at Melbourne’s celebrity status “Penang chai tiem ma” – grocery shop. An Aladdin’s cave of all things Penang with the ambience, too!


The subject is Tahbilk. A member of Australia’s First Families of Wine (‘AFFW’) and celebrating its 150th year in existence, I was determined to visit this producer. Persuading hubby to drive over 2 hours upstate without air-conditioning in the 35ºc heat was a feat in itself but so so worth it. OK R, I owe you big time (within reason). Beautiful scenery and the vineyard was spectactular. tahbilk-2.jpg

Matt Pubrick – you are great – the great grandson of the man who made Tahbilk what it is today. Knowledgeable, well travelled and handsome. The poor chap had to endure my presence for over an hour. Thank you Matt for your patience and allowing me to taste all those bottles… including opening a 2nd bottle. I did so enjoy your company (even if you didn’t feel reciprocal in the matter at the time). You probably gathered what my favourites were and both bottles are now in my cellar awaiting for an appropriate evening. You are going to do great things in your life!


“The AFFW is a group of 12 highly dedicated, enthusiastic, family owned wineries. The group represents 16 Australian regions across four states in Australia with more than 1200 years of winemaking experience. The wineries are Brown Brothers, Campbells, D’Arenberg, De Bortoli, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry, McWilliams, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrells and Yalumba.” – Hayley Purbrick.

Scandinavia, Snow…

Work, work, work???

After last week’s adventure, there was more to come.

In preparation for UK’s “worst” weather in 50 years, R booked us on two flights – destination Helsinki monday morning. One out of Gatwick and the other, London’s Heathrow. Taxi booked for 4.45am, airport to be decided at 4.46am. We waited with baited breath, internet on a 24 hour snow alert.

The disappointment on his face as he looked out of the window. Not a flake of snow. The weathermen got it wrong once again! We chose Heathrow having spent more on the flight and the taxi fare was cheaper – and Finnair served a light Finnish breakfast on board – included. Arrived at LHR term 3 and checked in so quickly, we were too early for the lounge. Ended up having coffee with the common herd.

The flight as usual was delayed to the irk of the Finnish pilot. We had to wait an hour for the de-icing machine before take off. Helsinki airport was snow covered. -14ºc and everything was running smoothly. Not even a queue at the taxi rank. Having been assigned “bag look-a-after”, I took a separate taxi into town. 40Euros for a 35 minute ride (probably the scenic route) was worth it. I would never have managed dragging two bags in the snow from the bus terminus to the hotel SOKOS Torni, albeit, a 5 minute walk with change of 34.10Euros (heavier) in my pocket. Once checked in and emails read, the faux fur gillet worn, I headed for Stockmann. Finland’s equivalent to Harrods is by far more interesting. The ice cream stall at the forecourt was doing roaring business. My market research showed liquorice boules in crunchy cones being the top seller. The aromas mingled awkwardly between ice cream and fresh tulips (the stall opposite).

Late lunch consisted of some delicate Graavit Lohi (gravad lax) with a couple of blinis and a dollop of sour cream. I did buy a tablespoon of Lavaret roe (lojrom), quietly smuggled into breakfast to savour with my boiled egg the next morning. A packet of frozen freshTyrni (seabuckthorn) was chucked into my bottle of water for a refreshing filled vit C and Omega7 drink to last me through the day. January is the month for caviar and blinis. Salmon, trout, vandace, lavaret and even vegetarian cavi-art was on offer everywhere on promotion. Brunberg and Fazer chocolates in big bowls. The Finns do have a sweet tooth. For good measure i bought a couple of riesprakkas (Karelian rice pies) still hot, fresh from the oven.

Darkness by 4pm but the snow covered parks lit by old fashioned streetlamps looked postcard pretty. The harbour was delightful with large hunks of ice floating. The covered market with its freshest of fresh seafood, game and fruit was delightful. Dinner at Sundman’s Krog (Helsinki’s oldest restaurant) was as usual good. They even serve LongJin tea. As a hub for most flights to China, Helsinki hosts a multitude of chinese tradesmen. Nokia – Made in China. Everything – Made in China. Surprisingly I have yet to find a decent Chinese restaurant. Lappish, Russian, loads of Italian, Seafood, modern European, even an Indian..


Helsinki – Oslo

Blue1. The gate was right at the end of terminal 1, a good ten minute walk to my favourite Serviceair lounge opposite the taxfree Stockmann. The lounge won 2009 best lounge award, quite rightly deserved. Free WIFI and no fighting. Lots of seats and plenty of charging points for laptops. There is always lots of Fazer chocolates and great duppios. Decent food too. MH on the other hand was due to fly back to London. Yep… BA cancelled it’s flight. Poor chap ended up buying a £350 a single ticket to Manchester via Amsterdam on KLM.

Arrived in Oslo at 19.45pm. -18ºc


Oslo – Copenhagen

It was so cold in Oslo, even the faux fur failed to keep me warm. My fingers were frozen. At this, I decided the Baby Alpaca gillet had to be shelved. I wasn’t brave enough to venture out, besides my paperwork was so overview, the MacBook almost gave up the ghost and I thought I had a virus! Next trip.

The airport express train was brilliant and on time. 20 minutes to and from the central terminal to Gardomoen is pretty good, even if it costs 127NOK each way. Once through airport security, there is plenty to do. The Kontiki restaurant serves good thai prawn curry with rice. The girl in front of me ordered a sour cream smothered baked potato with a 9-11high skewer of crispy bacon speared vertically through. Sit upstairs where few people know about. Salmon House sells all the Norwegian morsels. Definitely worth a look. Temptation to buy a reindeer skin to lie on was shattered by the hounding angel over my right shoulder of “Robert will not let you check your bag in on your return trip tomorrow night from Copenhagen”. The angel always wins.

Flight was delayed to to technical problem. Quite what the problem was we were not told. Eventually landed at Copenhagen and a quick taxi ride to the Square Hotel. It was late and all I wanted want a good night’s sleep. Breakfast at the Square is brilliantly healthy. I recommend this hotel strongly!

After hours of recces at hotels downtown, I made my way to the train station and headed for the Airport Hilton for my last meeting. After quizzing and checing out more hotel rooms (god, it sounds so voyeuristic!) I walked across to the airport and headed for the security. Found the lounge and sunk into a nice cosy corner to finish my notes.

Flight home was unadventurous and it was just nice sleeping in my own bed!


In Search of the culinary Holy Grail


Cod (Stockfish) is dried in the cold arctic air till leathery and hard. When ready for use, the fish is reconstituted in culinary Lye – a solution of potassium hydroxide or potash. This process plumps the fish back to it’s normal size and probably removes all fat in the process. The fish is then filleted and washed. It is sold vacuum packed at this stage. To cook, the fish is cut into portions and placed skin side down in a baking dish. Some salt is sprinkled over, then the dish is covered with foil and baked for about 40 minutes at 200ºc. Because the fish has been soaked in water, the cooking will release this and in a way, gently steam the fish under cover.
Certainly not the mythical gelatinous gloop everybody talks about. It is not transparent. It is not soupy. It is not horrible. The lightly steamed fillet is served with crispy bacon, two mustards, grainy and powdered with some grated brunøst (Norwegian brown sweet cheese) and lefse (pancakes). All washed down with Norwegian beer and traditionally a Line aquavit  chaser. Eaten only around Christmas, Norwegians either crave or dismiss it. Folklore maintains it’s lucky, unlucky or otherwise… depending when and how you ate it.
It all began that fateful day some fifteen years ago when R, on one of his Oslo trips, tasted this “unsumptious” morsel.

London, 3rd Dec 2009 marked my quest. Over a massive okonomiyaki feast with my friendly foodie vikings, the L word was mentioned. Rubbing the salt in, they then invited me to join them at their 2009 Lutefisk feast in Oslo 3 days after. Having politely declined due to time constraints, I was then sent a photo of the dish by the temptress herself during the meal. That did it – the challenge was set: Oslo, 6th Jan 2010.

Cafè Engebret

Bankplassen 1

Tel +47 22 82 25 25


The chef was told to hold one portion of Lutefisk. Flights and hotel booked, the event was set in stone.

Simple… the journey began. January 5th 2010, an auspicious day to say the least. The sun shining, bags packed and a fairly big birthday for R. Certainly required a pair of healthy lungs to blow out those candles (I managed – just, to light them all up before the wax melted away).

I even managed to serve up the traditional birthday noodles for breakfast. We left the house. School trunk, tuckbox plus 7 other items were put in the boot. The baglady herself comfortably settled with iPod glued in ears, we set off to drop Nat to school. As the minutes ticked away, so did the sun. By Burford, the clouds honed in. Within minutes, white specks, then fluff and then clumps of cottonwool. Andoversford was panneforte like and it just got whiter and whiter. Cheltenham College was postcard material. As the heavy snow came down, we continued to unpack and then bravely walked to MontP for lunch. Brave??? Birthday lunch and to apease Nat, sore, that we had managed to reach Cheltenham. 30 of the 60 SA girls did not make it back.

We had to be pushed out of SA and it took 4 hours to get to Oxford. Trucks and cars were abandoned along the single tracked A40. From snowless Oxford to Gatwick, R stepped on the gas and we were parked, checked in and at the gate with 10 minutes to departure. Arrived and in bed by 1.30am. Box ticked.

Spent the next day shopping and preparing myself for the “Indiana Jones”. Saw the most amazing baby Alpaca gillett at 499…. (at that point husband said why didn’t you buy it..). 9 NOK. Clearly he was glad I didn’t succumb. The meal was fabulous and company sincerely made the event. Norwegian hospitality is second to none. Crawled into bed at 1am.

The return home to London was even more fraught. Our flight was cancelled and darling R paid the £600 for single tickets rebooked on SAS, landing at Heathrow. A taxi was waiting to take us back to Gatwick to collect the car.

Overall, a truly exciting adventure and a quest completed…. NEXT>>>>

My sincere thanks to Marit at Oslo International Airport’s Salmon House, who so patiently allowed me to photograph and “interrogate” her. I did spend a few NOKs in her shop buying dried cod slices and you know what, I may yet make some lutefisk!



Writing this with a glass of bubbly in my “suite” on board the VS12 heading back to London after a few glorious days of testing lobsters, clam chowders etc. on the coast of New England. More on that later…

Back to the collabo or rather…..

Handcuffed, three legged and joined at the waist effort by two uber amazing chefs, working together in a hot, steamy, “sensually arousing” kitchen surrounded by  unusual ingredients scoured from around the world.

The dishes were well balanced and matched each other course after course. A delightful evening enhanced by a great choice of wines from Hama-San’s personal wine collection.

The menu:

  • Sea Urchin Flan covered with Snow (KY)
  • Truffled Tofu with Smoked Aubergine (NM)
  • Crab Salad “Delices” (KY)
  • Onion Soup Moderne (NM)
  • Monk Fish with the 7 Tools (KY)
  • “Umami” Del Mar a la Montagna-Memories of San Sebastian (NM)
  • Orange Skin Puree with Lemongrass Royal (NM)
  • Winter Scene (KY)


La Regola Tasting Notes

Notes from Tasting in Milano Italy, 2nd December 2009

Steccaia 2008

85% Vermentino, 15%Sauvignon Blanc. Clean-ish cork… if anything… very very slightly musky. Fab lemon yellow wine with fragrant white flowers – jasmine, lemon blossom on nose. The wine itself was fresh. Lots of tropical fruits ending with a great zing of bitter lemons. Good crisp acidity and a great length for a Vermentino. Would be lovely served with seafood, it’s natural partner. Overall, great wine for the price. Voted by tasters as the best white wine of the evening.

Rosegola 2008

Sangiovese Syrah and Merlot mix. Clean cork. Clear clear clean exuberant crimson wine. One of the freshest rosés I have ever tasted. Redcurrants, strawberries, nectarines. Complexity was fabulous with the delicate, fruity start, a middle of intermingled three grape varieties all in one mouthful, ending with a fabulous spicy, tingling finish. The length was just a little short but the freshness of the wine made up for this. This wine is perfect to drink on a summer’s afternoon with some chicken salad or grilled meat, sausages or just with some salumi. Interesting to note that after 3 hours, this wine was re tasted and was just tired and had lost all it’s fabulous properties. As per all rosé wines, the tasters were mixed about this bottle but I suspect that if I had served this on a warm summer’s evening, in an ice bucket with some grilled chicken overlooking the Tuscan hills, the verdict would be very very different

Lauro 2008

dsc01088-3-2.jpg 50% Chradonnay 50% Viognier. First impression… rather unprofessional with the label overwritten… 2008 from the original label that read 2006 in black pen! The cork was clean. A slight pinkish tinge to the straw coloured wine. It almost seemed a little oxidised and a little tired. Floral notes were more accented in this wine, with more viognier characteristics coming through over the chardonnay and oak. The matrimony of the chardonnay and viogier were not quite balanced. The finish was disappointing. Both bottles were opened and both displayed same characteristics. I would like to re-taste this wine as I do believe this wine could be better!

Vallino (della conche) 2005

Montescudaio DOC Cabernet Sauvignon. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Sangiovese 5% Syrah. Clean cork. A luscious ruby red. Black berries and black cherries on the nose. A nice fat juicy number. Beautifully balanced with lots and lots of luscious ripe plums, leather, rounded tannins and a hint of chocolate. A little farmyard like but this is typical of sangiovese which this wine has 10%. It is NOT a negative but shows true Italian style. The spice notes at the end were delicious. Black pepper galore. Ever so slightly disappointing on the finish with a rather short length but the wine itself made up for this well priced Super Tuscan. Drinks very well and is an ‘easy to please’ wine. Would match roast beef or lamb, pasta with a rich, hearty ragu and possibly some good mature cheeses. This wine from “the hollows” or “the valley” was well enjoyed by the tasters, however with big brothers Beloro and La Regola there was better to come.

Beloro 2005

Montescudaio DOC Sangiovese. Solo Sangiovese (100%). The cork was fragrant, having absorbed the nuances of this bottle of wine. Legs. Torpente coloured wine with a nose that was powerfully enticing over the little farmyard-ness that is so typical of the sangiovese grape. An extremely complex and balanced wine with all the characteristics you would be expecting! Mulberries, blackberries, prunes, spice, tobacco and a little leather. Ripe fruit and nice big tannins with a numbing szechuan peppercorn and minty finish. Good long length. A lot more years to go on this wine. Fab bottle and was the best of the lot! A big Wagyu steak and some really smelly ripe cheeses would go well with this wine. Tasted even better over the evening, concluding that this wine needs to breathe and should be opened for at least an hour or more before drinking. The tasters voted Beloro as the best red wine of the evening.

La Regola 2005

Montescudaio DOC Cabernet Franc. 85% Cabernet Franc 10% Merlot 5% Petit Verdot. Again a great nose on the cork. Cherries, plums, some blackberries but subdued. Green peppers and then some smoky cigars and leather coming through. An interesting wine with great tannins. Balanced rounded wine with peppery spicy finish. The feeling was that this big wine still needs time. In a few years, it would be interesting to see it’s evolvement.

La Regola Extra Virgin Olive oil 2009

dsc01021.jpg Leccino, Moraiolo, Frantoio Olives. A lovely fresh greeny yellow transparent colour. Dense, viscous and intensely nutty but fragrant nose with a hints of artichoke. La Regola’s rich thick texture is dominant, carrying lengthy under ripe fruit and extremely spicy but short finish. Perfectly matched with simple foods such as fresh green salad, over grilled meats or just to spice up some mozarella. Lots of bitter polypenols filled with antioxidants. Probably low Oleic acid content.


I would like to sincerely thank La Regola for generously providing the wines and olive oil for the tasting.

Podere La Regola Soc. Agricola Semplice

Owners : Luca and Flavio Nuti

Head office: Via A.Gramsci, 1 56046 Riparbella (PI) ITALY

tel. +39 0586 698145 fax + 39 0586 696833

Email: info@laregola.com


Strings attached?

As I write this, there is an AMATI,  yes… a REAL life 400 year old Amati playing the gorgeous Allegro by Fiocco just feet beneath me and it’s distracting me senseless! Just as I thought my mega project of violins, bows, cases and all things musical for a teenager was over… there is even more to salivate. And the dream goes on.
Back on track….  The trials and tribulations of a gorky, thirteen year old with an achy jaw (braces just tightened) trying so ferociously hard to make similar tones to that  Italian ‘piece of wood’. An unexpected treat for me… though probably not so for Rebecca, putting up with Nat’s much lesser Cremonese version.
Now playing the hauntingly romantic Salut D’Amour by Elgar. Yummy.
It all started a fortnight ago, with a leisurely drive to Cheltenham to attend the Junior concert at the new Performing Arts Centre. The showpiece being the rather nice shiny brand new Fazioli Concert Grand donated by a very generous parent (anonymous, of course). There I was a proud parent sitting quietly in the new CLC regulation, terribly comfy and squeak-less green seat. The purpose built auditorium was very nice with even nicer acoustics.
The girls came on one at a time playing and singing their well rehearsed solos, with confidence and pomp. Nat came on stage. My heart beating, I fumbled with the monopod and my little credit card camera. I pressed the record button. Wow, the Fazioli – Pietro del Rhee – Otto A Hoyer combination just blew me. The sound was just amazing. Goose bumps and then… I started to tremble. The piece was just divine. With life, there is always a spanner thrown in the works. I had forgotten I was holding onto the monopod…. the camera was shaking… Nat had been a blur pretty much all the way through. The more I tried, the more I shook. Then it all ended… one beautiful piece, a moving green blob with the mighty Faz in the background. The music survived, but I guess, I now need a hovercraft moving at the right frequency to view the mp4.
ProCorda week next. Nat was packed off to the Violinist Intro course to the Viola. Thinking it would be a great idea, two fold:
  1. to give her exposure to a new instrument, and
  2. for me to get on with my work.
After a hard day at Prosecco, tasting almost 100 bottles of fizz, I came home to find a rather wobbly Nat at the end of a mobile. She had been given the Bach Brandenburg no.6 Viola de Gamba (2) part and had to sight read ‘a tempo’ in the alto clef that very evening!  If that wasn’t enough, 2 quintets and a Telemann Fantasia were put into her sticky hands. Concert was on the Sunday!
By 11pm, all was sorted, phone calls and emails flying, the staff were fantastic.
The concert was sensational. Musicians were a cut above and played beautifully, remembering that scores were dished out only days before. The staff were all just amazingly professional. A great day out and getting up at 6am on a sunday coupled with the 3.5 hour journey home was well worth it!  Best of all, Nat was accepted into the Junior chamber section for violin. Great kid, proud parents.

Month of Wine-ing

Wines, wines, wines… work, no song and definitely – NO women “of that sort” -anyway. It’s been a interesting few weeks.

The tastings started with an exquisite surprise. Akemi lovingly brought a bottle of prize winning handmade Gewuztraminer all the way back from Hokkaido.


The little treasure was pulled out of her bag of magic as she geisha-ed into the restaurant. This delicate japanese number proved it’s weight in gold. Lychees, mangoes and all thoughts “Gewuzie” were in this powerful Traminer yet so subtle and balanced. Delicious.

Wines of Argentina tasting. A day scouring through bottles of sparkling, white, red and a couple of interesting puddings. Torrontes and Malbec galore and then…. an “Amarone styled” made by a fine maker with certainly creative flair. The coffee man stationed in the foyer is still one of London’s best, serving REAL cappucinos and lattes with beautifully poured designer froth. The Empanades at this event are legendary.



Cremona City of Violins

One of my favourite places on Earth. Bright and early I got myself to Milan’s Centrale armed with €11 for the return ticket and before getting on to the train, direction Mantova, punching my ticket in the yellow box at the platform. If lucky, the train is the ‘fast’ direct to Cremona, if not – get ready to jump out at Codogno and run. There is usually a local chugger waiting, with the added adrenalin filled Italian game of “find the train”. This time, signed posted platform one, a great relief till I realised it was a long way away (almost to Cremona!!!).

cremona-1.jpg Headed for the Consorzio with L walking pass the statue of Stradivari in the main square. As ever, a friendly face to greet us. Organised a viewing and trial of a Baroque violin with one of the world’s best known baroque luthiers, Eduardo Gore for the afternoon. Directions were drawn on a bit of paper and we left to visit Pietro Del Rhee another great luthier. Tried a few fab bows on Rhee’s newly made Guarneri Del Gesu styled violin and we left to view the collection. L spent €5 and a good 30 minutes, gorking at the squillions of liras worth of string instruments including Stradivaris, Amatis, Guarneris and, and, and.. sadly no performance that day. If lucky (and I have been) the curator, Prof Musconi will pull out the Stradivari “Il Cremonese” and play a private recital if a group is available (for €1.50 each). This can be organised through Patti Kaden. Time permitting, she can organise a short lecture with a luthier on violin making and if there are any concerts, the Teatro Ponchielli is definitely worth the treat.

Lunch with Patti was at our usual Pizzeria Duomo run by 5 generations of pizza makers. NIcola the propietor is a character.

The Duomo is worth a visit and the remains of Santa Omobono, the patron saint of Cremona, lies in the crypt. Don’t leave Cremona without a jar of Mostarda di Cremona, a mustardy syrupy concoction of glacé fruit eaten with cheese and meats, especially the Bollito Misto.