Eat Vienna

It’s our second entry in Bearleader’s “Eat a City” series, where we pick a city and hit the road to find great eateries we think you will enjoy. This time we are reporting back from Vienna, Austria.

For a major European capital, Vienna is relatively small. With only 1.7 million inhabitants, it is a city that can be easily explore and its old world charm can be absorbed in just a few days. We decided to search for places where you can experience authentic-contemporary-Viennese life, that are frequented mostly by locals. These are places that don’t cater to the familiar Viennese stereotypes. If it’s schnitzel and apple strudel you are looking for, you may want to look elsewhere.

1 Gasthaus Woracziczky

The first stop on our culinary tour takes us to Vienna’s 5th district, close to the famed Naschmarkt, the largest open food market in Vienna. The name of this restaurant is a bit of a tongue twister but don’t let it scare you. It’s pronounced Wora-schit’-ski.

Number 52 Spengergasse was the address of another restaurant for a long time before husband and wife team, Marion and Christoph Wurz, took it over, breathing new life into the place. What was a dark, smoke-filled, wood-paneled dining area and bar has been turned upside down. Now the rooms are bright, light, fresh and airy with classic old Viennese chairs and Marion’s flea-market-vintage bric-a-brac finds, lending the rooms an air of eccentricity.

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The kitchen is in the experienced hands of young Austrian chef Martin Buzernic, who specializes in local, traditional fare, deconstructed and reinterpreted into fresher and lighter versions. The wine list is Austrian only. Not familiar with the local wines? Just ask Marion for advice. She will know the best pairings for the day’s menu.

At lunch hour, the restaurant is full of regulars from the neighborhood taking advantage of a very reasonably priced lunch menu. The crowd is small enough that Marion and Christoph know many of their patrons by name, giving the place the feel of a canteen, but with one important distinction: The food is great.

The menu changes daily based on what farmers bring, which you can see announced every morning on Facebook. It is written in German, but with a little help from Google translator you can easily evaluate the menu’s general yumminess. Or just show up and use Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” technique and order whatever’s on offer. You won’t be disappointed.

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In the evening a new menu is handwritten based on the morning’s experiments. The names of the dishes may be unfamiliar but the friendly waitstaff is happy to assist with descriptions and suggestions.

Gasthaus Woracziczky is a true reflection of Marion and Christopher’s warm charm and kind hospitality. It’s a great place to while away a few hours over good food, wine and conversation.

2 Zum Finsteren Stern

Next we visit Zum Finsteren Stern, meaning “to the dark star”. Situated in Vienna’s first district, the restaurant is on the ground floor of a 17th century Palais where in October 1762, a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister Maria Anna gave their first public concert at the invitation of Count Thomas Vinciguerra Collato.

Nowadays you won’t likely hear the sounds of Mozart in the air. But you will hear the rhythmic sounds of horse drawn carriages carrying tourists past the restaurant on their tours though the first district: the carriages are, perhaps, the one sound that would also have been familiar in Mozart’s day.

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At Zum Finsteren Stern, a former actress, Ella De Silva, now pours her talent into creating great experiences for her audience through food and hospitality.

The decor is simple, and direct. Dramatic vaulted ceilings take center stage and in the lower dining room, a series of carved wood panels line one wall, serving both as art installation and light fixture.

If your visit to Vienna is during the summer months, be sure you book a table in the beautiful outdoor plaza. The plaza is sheltered by an enormous tree and dining here is cinematic, enjoying Ella’s delicious creations as horse-drawn carriages slowly roll by, the sound of the horses’ hooves echoing through the narrow streets.

Ella’s menus draw on traditional Austrian ideas with influences from Austria’s southern neighbor, Italy. Fresh local and seasonal ingredients shape her menus.

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I am lucky to have dined at Zum Finsteren Stern several times, which allows me to give you a bit of an inside scoop. Ella makes a signature dessert called “Schoko Bombe”, a rich chocolate dish served cold. It is quite literally “the bomb”. They go quickly, so ask your waiter to put one aside for you when you order your meal. That way you won’t be disappointed, as I have been more than once.

3 Labstelle

For restaurant number three we head over towards St. Stephens Cathedral. Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral is Lugeck Square, a medieval plaza that was traditionally designated the emergency meeting place in times of war. Now it’s the home of the restaurant, Labstelle.

Labstelle has built its reputation on fresh modern design and farm-to-table cooking. Owner Thomas Hahn works with a tight-knit community of purveyors whose names are proudly displayed on a big blackboard in the restaurant’s entry.

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Style, service and modern cuisine are hallmarks of a visit to Labstelle. The young waitstaff is helpful and friendly, and the dining room is outfitted with Danish Modern Wegener chairs, neutrally-toned linen napkins and reclaimed wood tables. The place is packed full of small, thoughtful, design details, making the space as thoughtfully constructed as the food. The menu is driven by what Labstelle’s purveyors are able to provide on the day, so you are always in for a surprise.

In the summer it is nice to sit in the outdoor courtyard – a quiet spot set back from the hustle and bustle of Lugeck Square.

If you have already been in Vienna for a few days, and just cannot face another schnitzel or apple strudel, Labstelle is a refreshing change of pace. On the day of our visit we saw a steady stream of local professionals, visitors and young creatives coming through the door. A sophisticated and diverse crowd, which speaks well for Labstelle’s local reputation.

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Searching for a special something to bring home from your visit? Purchase a bottle of the house soap that was custom-designed for the restaurant by a young Viennese Soap maker. Feels good and smells great too. We loved it!

4 Zur Herknerin

Next we venture into the 4th district to meet Stefanie Herkner, one of the most vivacious and lively chefs I have come across. Full of life, love and enthusiasm, Stefanie abandoned a career in art management and a stint living in London to take over a former plumbing store and pursue her culinary dream.

The sign from original plumbing store remains in place above the restaurant, advertising “Installationen” (pipe fitting). It’s a good omen that everything still flows smoothly at the plumbing store’s appetizing successor.

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The restaurant business runs deep in the Herkner family. Stefanie’s dad answered to the title “Wirt”, the Austrian term for chef. He was famous for his authentic Viennese cooking and is still regarded as a trailblazer for what we now call gastropub culture. Now it’s Stefanie’s turn to bring her versions of dumplings, gulasch and all manner of traditional Austrian fare to the hungry hordes of Vienna.

For out-of-towners the fully Austrian handwritten menu can be a little hard to decipher. But plenty of help is on hand to assist you in make your selection, and to advise you on, say, the best wine to pair with spinach dumplings, or Spinatknoedel as the menu might read.

In case you want to learn the art of dumpling making, Austrian style, email Stefanie. She sometimes turns her kitchen into a classroom to educate aspiring chefs on the vagaries of the dumpling. Sounds like a fun activity. I make a pretty mean dumpling but I could definitely use a refresher course.

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In the summertime Stefanie installs a few small wooden tables out front on the sidewalk. It’s not quite Italy, but quite enjoyable on a balmy Viennese night. Zur Herknerin was a great find and a fitting conclusion to our Eat Vienna Tour. Bon appétit!

The Small Print

There are a couple of oddities that you might experience eating out in Vienna. Here is a rundown.

First, as of the writing of this article many Austrians continue to have a difficult time embracing the concept of not smoking inside public spaces, that most of Europe and the US have now mastered. The Austrian government has made some half-hearted attempts at complying with current EU law on this, but alas, somehow it is not yet working.

So if you prefer to eat sans smoke, always check that the restaurant you are going to is non-smoking before heading out. If you are a smoker, Vienna is your nirvana.

Second, an issue we came across again and again is that it is rare in Vienna for a restaurant to take credit cards. It is always a good idea to be prepared with cash in hand should the need arise.

And last but not least, if you find yourself in Vienna on a Sunday, many restaurants will be closed. You might be left with few choices, and mostly of the tourist variety. Note to self, find some good places to eat in Vienna on Sundays.

Details

Gasthaus Woracziczky

Spengergasse 52, 1050 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 69911 229530

Open Monday to Friday
Lunch service 11:30am – 2:30pm
Dinner service 6:00pm – 12:00am
Closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays
Closed August 10th – August 30th

Non-smoking | Cash only | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you.

Zum Finsteren Stern

Schulhof 8, 1010 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 535 2100

Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only
6:00pm – 1:00am

Non-smoking in the downstairs dinning room until 10:00pm | Credit cards accepted: MasterCard and Visa | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you.

Labstelle

Lugeck 6, 1010 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 236 2122
www.labstelle.at

Open Monday to Saturday
11:30am – 2:00am
Lunch service 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Dinner service 6:00pm – 11:00pm

Non-smoking | Credit cards accepted: MasterCard and Visa | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you, or book online.

Zur Herknerin

Wiedner Hauptstrasse 36, 1040 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 699 1522 0522

Open Tuesday to Friday for dinner only
5:00pm – 10:00pm

Non-smoking | Cash only | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you | To inquire about Stefanie’s cooking lessons email her at buero@zurherknerin.at.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Toasted, with a Pat of Butter

A few months ago I shared a story about my visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. The gallery’s name comes from is location in the village of Dulwich. The problem with Dulwich is that it is located just far enough south of London that you wouldn’t likely visit there on a whim. You need sufficient motivation to make the trip. For me the Picture Gallery is more than enough to get me on the road. But on my last trip I decided to take the 15 minute walk from the gallery, through Dulwich Park and into the village, to see what else was going on in Dulwich. And as it turned out, we found another good reason to make the trip.

Situated on Lordship Lane, the main street of Dulwich, is the restaurant Toasted, a collaboration between Chef Michael Hazlewood and Manager Alex Thorp. Michael, or Hazel as everyone calls him, hails from the Southern Hemisphere and began to develop his considerable culinary skills at the well-regarded Attica in Melbourne. He later moved onto positions at a few famous London foodie hangouts.

Michael has a relaxed and quietly enthusiastic demeanor. And in spite of our arriving in the midst of a busy lunch-service prep, he was happy to engage with us as we peppered him with questions about the ingredients for the day’s menu and their sources. I am always intrigued by the alchemy that can happen in a kitchen in the right hands and Michael’s meticulous manner and adventurous ingredient combinations are testament to a real talent for food, beyond what practice can achieve. It’s an inspiration to see him work.

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As we chatted with Michael, Alex was nose-down and up to his elbows in the previous day’s receipts. Surely much of Toasted’s success is due to Alex keeping the front of the house up to the same high standard as Michael’s Cuisine.

By now the dough was fully proved so Michael got to work forming the boules for the day. Speaking of bread, even something as simple as butter has not escaped Michael’s attention. You first notice the color, an unusually bright shade of yellow. And then the taste, like a tangy cream but much thicker. It’s so good you could eat it on its own. Michael makes it daily from fermented raw milk sourced from a dairy just outside of London.

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There are three dining areas, one in front next to the bar, one almost in the kitchen where some prep work takes place (sit here if you want to eat immersed in the kitchen action), and one in an adjacent room.

In the adjacent room are also three large stainless steel tanks, purposely built to hold wine (in quantity) that Toasted has sourced from a small artisanal producer. The quality is good, and buying in quantity makes the cost quite reasonable. Coincidentally, Toasted’s predecessor at this location was a wine shop, so there is also a steady flow of customers looking to take advantage of the on-site bottled wine.

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In the end, Toasted’s charm is that it is simply a relaxed local joint where regulars come for a meal, or stop in for a coffee or a glass of wine. It just so happens that the meals are exceptional and it is an excellent room to hang out for a drink anytime. It’s definitely worth the trip to Dulwich.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


For more informant, current menus and a schedule for win tasting events, go to; www.toastdulwich.co.uk


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to Dulwich? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Eat Munich

We have received several emails of late from loyal Bearleader readers asking us to highlight more great food venues in and around the places we cover. You asked for it and here it is, the first of our new “Eat a City” series. Each time we visit a city we will be searching out four great places for you to dine. We will be picking options in different price ranges, styles of food and places that are good to visit at different times of the day. All our suggestions will serve fresh, local and mostly organic food. And of course any place we suggest will be a fun outing.

First up, Eating Munich. If you are like me, images of Wurst (sausages), pretzels and beer immediately come to mind. But if you move beyond the Oktoberfest stereotype, you will find a small group of enthusiastic chefs working with local suppliers, whipping up a cuisine that is uniquely München. Yes, it is true, if you visit Munich any time in the other 11 months of the year you will have an equally good time, with a bevy of food and activity options that will delight, inspire and entertain. Here is what we found.

1 Garden

The Hotel Bayrischer Hof is a family-owned Munich institution, in operation since 1841. It has recently been renovated to enhance its five-star luxury reputation for another generation. Along with the hotel, the long-running Garden restaurant has also received a makeover under the direction of famed Belgian designer and art dealer Alex Vervoordt. Vervoordt transformed the Garden’s classic winter garden into a light-and-airy glass-enclosed dining room reminiscent of an artist Studio. Large expanses of glass, rough industrial materials and well-worn patinaed surfaces combine with a mix of natural linen fabrics to produce a dynamic lively space.

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Vervoordt controlled all visual aspects of the renovated restaurant with menus designed to his specifications, and commissioned fellow designer Ann Demeulemeester to produce uniforms for the wait staff. Demeulemeester created a work-coat-inspired Kimono in heavy dark blue linen, which is a brilliant and practical flourish that animates the new dining room.

The cuisine is just as inspiring as the décor, with chef Jan Hartwig at the helm since May. This is his first head chef position and along with his young, energetic creative team, the kitchen is producing solid dishes that seem quite mature for the short time he has been in charge.

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A real craftsman, Jan’s dishes all feature carefully composed intriguing flavor combinations, each full of charm and subtle in taste. You will also find a great variety of thoughtful meatless options equal to his more carnivorous concoctions.

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Jan’s love for effusing various fresh herbs into his dishes is a thread that runs through the evolving seasonal menu.

2 Waldmeisterei

Now we are heading over to the Maxvorstadt district to check out Waldmeisterei, a favorite eatery of design-savvy locals and students from the nearby Ludwig-Maximilians University.

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On arrival we are greeted by co-owners Damir Stabo Stabek and Christina Pawelski. We sit down for some cake and a fresh lemon/elderflower gespritzt to chat about how the recently opened Waldmeisterei came to be.

Stabo set out to create a breakfast-to lunch-time venue, offering simple, fresh food with a concentration on great cakes and coffee. It is part deli, part cafe, part local hang out. As we talked there was a steady stream of patrons coming and going, clearly on their daily pilgrimage to Waldmeisterei.

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The interior is quite new but constructed with recycled materials to look well-worn from day one. Walls and furniture are built from rough, reclaimed wood with bright copper-covered counter tops where cakes and other to-go offerings are displayed. Vintage chairs and chandeliers are paired with bold graphic posters to complete the comfortable and modern look.

Christina bakes many of the cakes fresh daily. And you will find a great selection of seasonal lunch dishes on offer each day, prepared by lunch chef Aramis.

A favorite of mine is the classic German-style open-faced sandwich called “Wurstbrot” and “Kaesebrot”. It’s a thick slice of dark whole wheat bread adorned with fresh cold cuts or cheese or both. A nice change of pace from the run-of-the-mill sandwiches we are so accustomed to, and good any time of day

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Afternoon is a great time to visit for “Kaffee und Kuchen”. A very German tradition that is still observed religiously by locals. And with Christina’s cakes, all the better at Waldmeisterei for your afternoon break from sightseeing.

3 Fraeulein Grueneis

Just a short trip south and east and we arrive at the southernmost point of the English Garden, where the Eisbach River rushes into the park.

Of all the restaurants I have visited lately, this one has the best back story. Built in 1906 as a public toilet for the English Garden, it served its intended purpose for many years. Eventually the building acquired a reputation for drug dealing and other illicit activities, and it was officially boarded up and left to decay.

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Then one day a few years ago, the overgrown ruins caught the attention of local residents Sandra and Henning Duerr, who somehow had the vision to see that this dilapidated English Garden folly could be put back into service for public use as a restaurant.

Having a vision is one thing, but bringing that vision to fruition is quite another. Standing in Sandra and Henning’s path was the city’s building department who would have to give them permission to occupy the property in order to move their plan forward. They soon found out that this permission was not going to be easy to extract. As Henning tells it, without Sandra’s dogged determination it would never have happened. Sandra attacked the problem with such tenacity that the city finally surrendered and gave permission, if for no other reason than to stop Sandra from calling them every day.

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With all the paperwork in order, the project began and the building was soon restored to its original exterior appearance. Henning did most of the work himself, and in 2011 the building reopened. When you are there, notice one of the few original details that remain from the original building, the sign “Frauen”, from the women’s room entrance.

Now an integral part of the neighborhood, the restaurant attracts a healthy lunch crowd from local businesses, tourists and surfers arriving from the nearby Eisbach River. There are not too many places you can eat lunch with such a diverse crowd.

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The lunch menu changes daily, based on what’s available locally, with two dishes served as long as supplies last. Sandra and Henning live next to the local green market so they can easily buy their produce fresh daily. A great selection of home-baked cakes and other treats are also available for dessert or “Kaffee und Kuchen” in the afternoon.

Fraeulein Grueneis is open year round. In the winter season, a small wood-burning stove in the main room is enough to keep everyone warm. And with the cold comes mulled wine season, which is well worth braving the cold for.

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Being situated within the English Garden provides more benefits than just a scenic location. To start with, there is a steady supply of wood from the local gardeners to keep the stove stoked all winter. And Henning told us they also tend several beehives in the gardens, producing a steady supply of their own Fraeulein Grueneis honey. A great souvenir to bring home with you from your lunch in the garden.

After lunch, be sure you stop by the bridge over the Eisbach River. From the bridge you get a prime view of the locals surfing the famous stationary wave. The Eisbach River is the only river surfing location in the world within a city. But that is a story for another time.

4 Chez Fritz

For dinner we are heading east over the Isar River to Munich’s French Quarter in the neighborhood of Haidhausen to visit a wonderful French brasserie called Chez Fritz

The Franzosenviertel (French Quarter) district in Munich dates back to around 1871 when, to commemorate Germany’s war with France, many streets were named after battlefields where Germans were victorious.

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The energetic crew at Chez Fritz know their chops. The menu features a selection of French classics such as: Steak Frites, Entrecôte, Jarret D’Agneau, and Moules et Frites. Seafood figures prominently on the menu and the daily fresh offerings are on display for individual selection in the dining room.

The dining room feels like it has existed for at least as long as the local streets bearing French names. Whether by age or design, it’s a great room and just what you would want as a setting for classic French cuisine.

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During the warm summer months, try to get a table outdoors in the shadow of the neighboring St. Johannes church. Chez Fritz’s eclectic mix of vintage furniture under the old trees of Preysingplatz adds to the old world ambience.

Details

For details and reservations at the Garden restaurant go to; www.bayerischerhof.de

For opening hours and additional information about Waldmeisterei go to; www.waldmeisterei.com

For details and information about Fraeulein Grueneis go to; www.fraeulein-grueneis.de

For reservations and additional information about Chez Fritz go to; www.chezfritz.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Conquering Chania

Just north of the African continent, a little southeast of Italy and southwest of Turkey lies the island of Crete, the southernmost island in Greece. Its location plumb in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea has made Crete a stopping-off point for thousands of years. Throughout history, anyone going from here to there in the Mediterranean likely had a layover in Crete. And these successive waves of traders, marauders and pirates are the key to understanding the many layers of modern Crete.

Much of the flux in Crete has centered on the city of Chania in the west of the island. Here the successive layers of conquest and immigration by various Mediterranean and European groups is hidden in plain sight. You just need to know a few clues and, like an x-ray machine, all the intricate layers of history are revealed.

Today’s invaders of Crete are mostly package-holiday goers, a relatively benign force that, as a rule, stays in camp, rarely venturing out. When they do go out, a popular destination is the historic and beautiful harbor at the center of the old city. On our initial visit to Chania we too headed straight for the harbor in search of history, local culture and fresh regional cuisine. What we found was fast food, cocktails and the drum beat of euro-pop echoing across the deep blue waters.

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Briefly disoriented, we thought surely this is not the Chania we had read about. Were we mistaken about this place? We quickly changed strategies.

It is true that Chania’s harbor is the most picturesque part of town, and probably for this reason uncontrolled development has taken over, making the place a bit of a mess. Realizing we needed help ferreting out the hidden delights of Chania, we sought professional assistance.

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Dr. Alexandra Ariotti is an Australian born archaeologist and historian. She works all over the world researching, lecturing and digging. She has extensive experience around the Mediterranean and a particular focus on the Middle East. However when she is not working abroad, she calls Chania home. Alexandra hosts fabulous private historic walks, each lasting 2.5 to 3 hours, guiding you through a maze of streets and alleys on routes which reveal the mysteries of Chania’s fascinating history. Alexandra knows the city inside and out. Listening to her weave historical and present day Chania together brings the place alive.

I jotted down some observations from our tour with Alexandra:

• Chania is the second largest city of Crete and until 1971 it also was the capital (today the capital is Heraklion). The old town of Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement the Greeks called Kydonia, Greek for quince.

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• Crete has quite a tumultuous history due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean. Ever since the Byzantine era, the Venetians, the Ottoman, all the way up to the Germans in World War II, fought for and occupied the island. You can see the scars of conflict all around you. Alexandra points out the dividing lines in some of the excavations, where one group co-opted buildings from the past to build on Crete’s evolving urban landscape.

• Walking around town you come across various excavation sites seamlessly woven into the fabric of a neighborhood. Some of them feel a bit neglected, but since everywhere you scratch the surface you stumble across some important archeological find, important ones are simply stabilized, protected and left for future research.

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• We saw many old houses falling apart and in ruins while right next door a house would be beautifully restored and fully occupied. Alexandra explained that in World War II during German occupation, the city was heavily bombed, killing the occupants of the buildings. Ownership is often shared between family members or is murky with the former owner deceased. Without clear ownership or agreement on who can develop the homes, they fall into disrepair and eventually fall down.

• Walking through town while Alexandra points out details dating back to Minoan times is like walking through a mystery novel. All the while locals come and go among the ancient structures seemingly oblivious to the history around them.

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• Walking through the market area where in days past fine Cretan leather products would have been made and sold, we notice that most of what’s on offer is imported. There are exceptions though. We found one obscure shop still making the famous black leather boots worn by men throughout Greece. You have to look hard but there are a few shops that still practice the traditional Cretan crafts.

Having completed our time with Alexandra we had a good overview of the old city and could start navigating on our own. We set out to explore some more. Here are some of the places we found that are worth checking out.

The Archeological
Museum of Chania

The museum is housed in the former Venetian monastery of Saint Francis, a truly wonderful place to explore. The old worn walls in pinkish colors and the 1950’s-era museum cases make for an interesting mix of styles. You can see jewelry, vases, sculptures and coins from the Minoan, Roman and Byzantine times.

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Etz Hayyim Synagogue

We sat down with Dr. Nikos Stavroulakis in the Synagogue’s courtyard, to talk about the buildings long history.

Etz Hayyim Synagogue is the only surviving Jewish monument on the island of Crete. The building goes back to the Venetian period and became a synagogue in the 17th century to serve a vibrant Jewish community living in Chania at the time.

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For about 2,300 years, Jews thrived in Crete, sharing in its history and contributing to the complex local culture throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Andalusian Arab, Venetian and Ottoman periods, until near the end of World War II, when the Cretan Jewish community was, decimated.

In early June 1944, virtually all the Jews in Crete were rounded up and arrested. Together with some 600 Greek and Italian prisoners, the Jews were put on the German merchant ship Tanais and shipped off the island. Tragically, soon after its departure, the Tanais was spotted by the British submarine HMS Vivid and fired on. The Tanais and all on board were lost.

Canea Gift Shop

While wandering around, we happened across the Chania Gift shop. Owner Konstantinos Konstantinidis was born and raised in Chania and after living abroad for many years came back home to start a local business. His idea was to make a gift shop that sells unique products that are designed and made in Greece.

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You will find smartly designed mugs, towels, bags, T-shirts, and notepads: absolutely the best place to get a souvenir to bring home from Crete. I still use my mugs from Konstantinos regularly and remember my time in Chania every time.

Tamam Restaurant

After talking to Konstantinos for a while about his shop and his great products, he invited us to come by his restaurant, Tamam, to meet his partner. Tamam is quite well known for its authentic regional cuisine. And like his shop, at Tamam, Konstantinos’ mission is to support local producers.

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Located one street behind the harbor but still in the hub of the old town, Tamam has been in operation since the 1970s. It is still one of the best places to eat in Chania. There are two indoor seating areas across the street from each other. And in-between, a narrow row of tables where you can sit outside and watch the people passing by. As usual, in high season it will be very, very busy, and off-season a real delight.

The Well of the Turk

Wandering through the back streets of old Chania, we stumbled across the restaurant, The Well of the Turk, and recalled that it has been recommended to us by friends. Located in a quiet neighborhood, it’s a great restaurant serving an eclectic mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food.

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House 66

There are many homes for rent in Chania, but we happen to have the inside track on one of the best. This apartment is right in the heart of the old town and owned by an architect husband and wife team living in London. It’s a great place to spend a few days … or much longer. Check the details section below for contact information.

Doma Hotel

A wonderful hotel owned by two fascinating sisters who were born in this house which has been owned by the family for generations. If you are looking to immerse yourself in Chania history this is the place for you.


< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


To book a tour with Dr. Alexandra Ariotti go to;
www.chania-oldtown-walks.gr

To visit the Archeological Museum of Chania, go to 25 Chalidon Street.

For more information about the Etz Hayyim Synagogue go to;
www.etz-hayyim-hania.org

For more information about the Canea Gift Shop go to;
www.facebook.com/caneagiftshop

For more information about Tamam Restaurant go to;
www.facebook.com/tamam

For more information about The Well of the Turk Restaurant go to;
www.welloftheturk.com

To book House 66 in Chania go to;
www.residencechania.com

To book a accommodation at the Doma Hotel go to;
www.hotel-doma.gr

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to Chania? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Eat, Chat, Love at Eschi Fiege’s Vegetarian Mittagstisch

Running late for my lunch appointment with author, host, and notorious Vienna vegetarian chef Eschi Fiege, I rushed through the Naschmarkt, one of Vienna’s largest public markets. Passing under the overlapping awnings, the sky opened up, drenching the path that runs between the market stalls and lifting the fresh scent of the market’s exotic foods into the air. It’s getting close to lunchtime and the all this fresh food is making me hungry. A quick dash across the street and I am at Eschi’s building.

The first thing you should know about Eschi Fiege is that Lunch is sacred. It’s her favorite meal of the day. She firmly believes that in our busy lives, it is critical to take an hour out of the day and enjoy a meal, preferably with friends. As Eschi says, “It gets your mind off whatever it is you normally think about, recharges the spirit and refreshes the mind”. She calls it her “secret for success”, and it has served her well. Eschi says “for years I observed people rushing around at lunch, food in hand, rarely taking time to sit down, and vowed to never fall into that trap”. According to Eschi, “setting that one hour a day aside is a key to a more productive day”.

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A few years ago, she decided to test her philosophy by kicking off a project called “Mittagstisch”. This is a German word that generally means lunch, but refers more specifically to a kind of fixed menu lunch for a group or workers. Twice a week Eschi Fiege opens her home to a small group of friends and friends of friends for lunch. Guests experience a relaxing hour with great seasonal, locally sourced, vegetarian dishes, and good conversation with friends and new acquaintances. And Eschi gets an enthusiastic and vocal audience to test out her new dishes.

The food industry wasn’t Eschi’s first choice as a career. At the age of 23 the world of advertising caught her eye and she became a creative director. Following that she moved into copy writing and directing for TV commercials. All this time cooking and entertaining was just a hobby. In retrospect though, her work experience and talents serendipitously led to her current project, combining a passion for food with media savvy to bring her message to a wider audience.

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Eschi’s apartment is packed with character and imbued with the continuity that only comes with a long family history. It’s where she, her mother and her grandmother lived so Eschi has been cooking here ever since she started licking the spoons. In fact, young Eschi took an early interest in cooking, experimenting with her own recipes soon after starting to cook with her mother.

The apartment feels more like a farmhouse than an urban apartment. Two resident cats, vintage furniture, well-worn, creaking floors and a balcony overflowing with plants, combine to give an impression of casual country living. A great place to put out some tables and invite some friends over for a relaxing mid-day break.

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From the balcony the fresh food markets can be surveyed several floors below extending through Vienna’s “Rechte Wienzeile” district. Many of the vendors have become Eschi’s trusted allies in her endeavor to create relaxed, seasonal cuisine for her favorite meal of the day.

A few years ago, Eschi Fiege decided to test her philosophy by kicking off a project called “Mittagstisch”… Twice a week Eschi opens her home to a small group … for a Vienna vegetarian lunch.

Eschi’s recipes draw influence from regional foods: part Austrian, part Italian, part French with a hint of the Middle East. The food is uncomplicated at first glance. On tasting though, the flavors and combinations are surprising and the dishes an absolute delight.

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It’s been a few years now and Eschi has collected a loyal following. One unexpected result from this was a steady stream of requests for recipes. Once again luck was with Eschi when a Viennese publishing house offered her a book deal. The new book is titled, naturally, “Mittagstisch”. So now we can all benefit from Eschi’s years of kitchen experiments. It’s in German, but I am hoping for an English version soon.

Well, I have exceeded my hour-long lunch with Eschi and have to move on with the afternoon’s activities. But I am definitely refreshed by my Vienna vegetarian Mittagstisch and ready for whatever is in store.

No.32 | The Vienna Vegetarian Kitchen of Eschi Fiege

The tag line for Eschi’s book is “Sie kocht als wuerde sie uns lieben”. A rough translation of that is, “She cooks with love”. That’s a good place to end.

Details

If you’re in Vienna you can experience Mittagstisch for yourself. For times, gatherings and information, please email her at mail@lovekitchen.at. Don’t forget to mention that you are a friend of the Bearleader.

For more information on Artist Otto Zitko; www.ottozitko.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

River Cottage To Table

Having been a fan of the UK TV series set at River Cottage farm, hosted by food advocate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and without any new shows to watch of late, I came across Hugh’s talk at TED Exeter from a few years ago. One thing Hugh said resonated: “In order to help us connect with food, we should seek food with a story.”

With so many aspects of the world’s food supply in crisis, what’s one person to do? Well with River Cottage farm resturant and on the TV show, Hugh has made a personal appeal for us all to live better, healthier and more sustainably, by each week telling his personal stories about food. And his stories have had real impact. The national awareness towards eating locally and sustainably has never been higher in the UK. And in national and international politics, Hugh has successfully advocated for sensible and sustainable food policies in ways that will reap great benefits for consumers the world over for years to come.

Now, sadly, that the show has ended its run, Hugh has turned River Cottage farm over to the public, enabling us all the opportunity to experience, hands on, all the food stories we enjoyed on TV.

Upon arriving for our day at the farm we were greeted by operations manager Simon. He led us down the garden path, so to speak, as we made our way from the reception through meadows of grazing sheep, beehives, and crisp rows of dew-laden crops. Lambing season was in full swing so bouncing baby lambs hopped and scuttled in all directions as we passed through their domain.

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We sat down in the new dining hall and Simon treated us to some hot-drink hospitality as we learned more about River Cottage farms and resturant’s new mission and mapped out the day’s activities.

First, River Cottage farm was a TV set and laboratory of sorts for Hugh to test his farming, foraging, and husbandry ideas. Now it is a working farm and a modern state-of-the-art culinary school, which spreads Hugh’s message through hands-on instruction one person at a time.

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The facilities are state of the art and quite literally set into the landscape with vast areas of glass along the edge of the classroom. The message is clear, consider not just the food in front of you, but also where it comes from. And in most cases, the food prepared at River Cottage farm and restaurant could have been observed at some point through those windows.

The professional kitchen was buzzing with food production for the classes, and preparations for the soon-to-be-arriving guests. Dining at River Cottage is a great outing. You can visit for lunch or dinner year round. I have often been to restaurants where the term “farm to table” is batted around. Always with justification, but in this case the relationship is so close, sitting at the table while observing the farm is an altogether unique experience.

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The range of classes on offer year round cover an amazing variety of skills and topics: meat cookery, bread making, gardening, food foraging, preserves, making cider and beer, butchery. And for each subject taught in the school there is a corresponding book to remind students of what they learned once they get home. The books are also handy if you cannot make it to the farm: There is still a literary route to the River Cottage experience.

… Hugh has turned River Cottage farm over to the public, enabling us all the opportunity to experience, hands on, all the food stories we enjoyed on TV.

Because I am a bit of a fan of the TV show, getting to explore Hugh’s kitchen was a high point. One thing I learned from Hugh was that, with an old stove and an old table and a warm fireplace, you can make almost anything you want. And seeing Hugh’s old stove, table and original 17th century working fireplace in real life, it all looked even less auspicious than the simple set of tools and appliances where Hugh worked his magic on TV.

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Outside the kitchen window is the wonderful Victorian kitchen garden. It was still early spring when we visited, but you could see light green shoots all around starting to push out of the ground.

Simon explained that it took a few years to get the overgrown, abandoned farm back to where it is today. A farm is a machine for food production, but to work naturally it requires time and strategy. Each crop grows best with a certain set of nutrients which may be generated naturally by the crops grown in that ground previously. And once those nutrients are depleted the crops must be rotated. Getting the order right is the key to a productive yearly harvest. And coming up with ways to prepare food from all the crops in the rotation is the key to productive farming. Some plants have become more popular than others and tend to be over-farmed. But each plant is good if you know how to prepare it.

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We walked by a noisy gaggle of geese dashing for the pond to avoid us, and carefully avoided the chickens roaming freely around the farm, pecking the ground for any tasty morsels they could dig up. We stopped off at the pig pen for a visit with a couple of River Cottage’s heritage breed pigs. Simon politely knocked on their roof and both pigs poked their heads out to greet us. Both curious about the stranger at their door, they quickly warmed up to me, having a chew on my Hunter boots, which I took as a friendly gesture.

In the greenhouses, the first lush and juicy strawberries were starting to ripen. A few more weeks and they will ready to serve. Finally we made our way up a small hill, along a narrow footpath, and emerged in a large meadow covered with bluebells in bloom. What a brilliant mass of deep blue. On the way out we made a final stop at the lambing shed, where the newborn lambs were as curious to see us as their mothers were apprehensive.

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It is a great feeling when everybody and everything works towards a common purpose. And this is how the evolving story of River Cottage is being written every day by the people working on the land, in the kitchen and those plotting a future for this amazing place.

They say it is best to leave a place wanting more. And my departure from River Cottage was with the determination to come back soon.

Details

For information about tours, classes, or dining at River Cottage, go to; www.rivercottage.net

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Pigging Out—Oink Oink

In our travels we had heard talk of Chef Robin Rea and his establishment the Rusty Pig Ottery St Mary in Devon. So as we made our way around Devon, we could not resist the opportunity to stop in and visit the man himself, to see what all the talk was about.

Arriving in Ottery St Mary we parked in the town center and walked up the eerily quiet Yonder Street looking for Robin. It was not entirely clear that we were on the right path until we stumbled across a sow-themed shop window, complete with faux knives, metaphorically at the ready, to dispatch delicious pork parts to hungry diners everywhere. Ah, this must be the place.

The Rusty Pig Ottery has the feel of being undiscovered. The kind of place you stumble across in an out-of-the-way place and can proclaim to the world, “Look what I have found”. Unfortunately for us, The Rusty Pig Ottery is quite well known in these parts, and much further afield, as attested by his name coming up several times in conversations with strangers. But, as we discovered, through Robin’s relentless pursuit of his passion for food, charcuterie and various other food innovations, quite a unique establishment has developed. Part butcher shop, part restaurant, part lunch counter and local meeting place, Robin has created the perfect spot to work his magic.

As an aside, Robin welcomed us in one of Teresa Green’s silkscreened aprons. A blood red linen one made especially for Robin. Who is Teresa Green? Check out Check out Journal Entry No.28.

Robin’s story is as diverse as the style of his establishment. He started cooking as a teenager. First leaving Ottery St Mary bound for Australia, and then returning to London, eventually ending up at the nearby River Cottage. Finally returning home to Ottery St Mary, he decided to take over his mom’s former 99p store on Yonder Street. After a gut renovation, the Rusty Pig Ottery was born.

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Passionate about pigs, Robin keeps a few of his own, which he “lodges” at a friend’s vegetable farm. They fertilize her gardens and in return she provides the Rusty Pig Ottery with excellent veggies. He is also on a mission to educate people about animal husbandry and how we need to change our farming practices to be healthier and more sustainable. That means more vegetables generally, but better meat when you have it.

At the Rusty Pig you will only get what is in season from Robin’s local purveyors. But in Devon, that is not terribly limiting. With all its lush farmland and adjacency to the sea, it’s a food lover’s paradise. When I took Robin’s portrait in front of his store I momentarily held up traffic as I backed up into the street. As the trucks passed, Robin realized one of them was his seafood supplier and shouted “Hey! Where’s my fish?” He sped off shouting, “be there in two”. How’s that for a purchase order!

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Wasting food does not sit well with Robin. His roof-top smoker cabinet bears testament to that. He built it himself, to my eye having the approximate proportions of the puppet theaters I remember from childhood. He smokes sausages, hams, but surprisingly, also carrots and any other vegetables he has left over. The smoked carrots are the main ingredients for his home-made ketchup which is just delicious.

… returning home to Ottery St Mary, he decided to take over his mom’s former 99p store on Yonder Street. After a gut renovation, the Rusty Pig Ottery was born.

Sometimes Robin’s drive to not let anything go to waste has driven him to extremes. One of his specialties is blood meringues. For Robin they are part object lesson and part dinner entertainment. Working with a food scientist, Robin found that the protein structure of pig’s blood is virtually identical to that of egg whites. So to illustrate his no-waste message, he now makes beautiful little desert meringues out of pig’s blood. They are slightly beige, and believe me if you were not told otherwise, you would not know the difference between Robin’s blood meringues and their egg-based cousins. “It took a lot of testing”, he says. “You just need to get the sugar level right, or it tastes like you got hit in the mouth”.

Rusty Pig Ottery St Mary in Devon | Bearleader No.30

His real passion is Charcuterie and originally he set out to do exclusively that. But one thing led to another and soon Robin was preparing food for his customers on site, which turned out to be a better business model to support Robin’s constant culinary experiments. And luckily for you and me, you can now enjoy Robin’s extensive talents for breakfast and lunch from Thursday to Saturday. The day we visited, breakfast was already in full swing with locals and urban weekenders, all in for their weekly breakfast treats.

On Robin’s recommendation, we went for the Full English, which I have to say, was my best to date. Seriously, the flavor ensemble was perfect, and it was a food stylist’s dream in a sturdy black skillet with lovely vegetables, simply roasted, with blood pudding, sausages, hash and lovely thick cut of white toast.

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You would think that someone that is so passionate about charcuterie would be snobbish with vegetarians. Not so with Robin. He very clearly expresses that in this day and age a good chef should be able to cook a main course with whatever is available to them, meat or not. Learning to be improvisational allows you to develop a much more interesting palette of taste. And as with doing anything risky, mistakes happen, which then become the next innovations.

So come hungry and don’t be shy about ordering vegetarian. I was torn as to which I liked best.

Rusty Pig Ottery St Mary in Devon | Bearleader No.30

One of the Rusty Pig Ottery specials is his “dinner on demand”. If you make arrangements ahead of time Robin will prepare an ethically sourced four-course dinner for 40 pounds a head. He can host up to 15 people. Just remember, you need to book way in advance. His dinners are extremely popular and patrons travel from far away for the experience.

I left thinking this guy should be famous, I mean seriously famous. And then I remembered, he is already. It was just a lovely down-to-earth experience chatting with Robin and his team. His charm, wit and enthusiasm for food is something you very rarely see. He has created exactly the kind of place where people from all walks of life like to come and spend time with him and eat.

Go there. All I can say you will love it.

Details

For further details go to; www.rustypig.co.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Hugo’s of Portland, Maine

When I drove up to Maine during a winter blizzard back in January, it was a far cry from today’s balmy weather in London, where I sit tapping out my recollections of my visit to Hugo’s Portland Maine. At the conclusion of a harrowing drive, I arranged to meet with partners Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley and Arlin Smith, who took over Hugo’s in 2012 from their former boss Rob Evans. We squeezed in our meeting early so we could get acquainted before everyone headed off to perform their respective duties in preparation for the night’s dinner service.

The restaurant has been located at the edge of the Old Port district since the late 1990s, when Evans opened the place and, with his flair for cuisine, quickly put Portland on the food map. After assuming control of Hugo’s, Andrew, Mike and Arlin put their mark on the place, focusing on locally sourced seasonal ingredients, prepared simply, but in the most interesting and unexpected ways. They soon parlayed their success into a second venture, an adjacent casual eatery called Eventide Oyster Company. Here you can enjoy their ingredient-focused style put to work on fresh oysters, hot lobster rolls and cold beer.

During my short visit I was in a good position to experience the two establishments side-by-side. Both restaurants share a kitchen and it’s only a short hop between them. So I ran back and forth between them, talking to whoever was free, and sampling the two menus. Each dining room has a distinct style. Eventtide is light, airy and relaxed, in a “beach holiday” kind of way. Hugo’s Portland Maine is decorated in a modern-craft style, with recycled wood, stainless steel and warm toned, slightly worn leather upholstery.

At Hugo’s, leather booths line one side of the restaurant with bar seating opposite. The kitchen is open and located just beyond the bar, so if you are at the bar you have front-row seats for the kitchen performance.

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Mike and Andrew, are the chefs of the trio. They met while working at Hugo’s under Evan’s tenure. They lead a young and enthusiastic crew who all share Andrew’s, Mike’s and Arlin’s vision.

Hugo’s Portland Maine is one of those places were a clear vision, enthusiasm and a love for ingredients shapes the place.

Mike started sending out plates as we chatted. First, was a poached duck egg, served with savory granola confit, beach mushroom, parsley puree and candied orange zest, accompanied by bacon on toast. It was a sensational dish. I would say the tastes and textures combine with surprising tenderness. The savory granola was an inspired touch.

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His second dish featured braised beef with pickled black radish and charred onion root, topped with a vegetable fritter made from celery and parsnip, and finally drizzled with beef juice. The slight acidic taste of the black radish perfectly balanced the dish, … outstanding.

Mike then prepared local sea urchin and Hikiki, served on a rice puff, topped with Jalapeño pepper. The dish was plated on a piece of black slate, the whole presentation, a feast for the eyes. The Jalapeño pepper added a distinctive little kick to the dish to round it up, a surprising combination

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And the local sourcing goes beyond the food. Hugo’s Portland Maine worked with local ceramic artist Alison Evans to design many of the dishes for the restaurant. Alison’s work is solid and earthy. She works with a color palette of mostly muted colors that, of course, fits in perfectly with the food and decor at Hugo’s. Mike always knows exactly what kind of plate he wants for a dish; texture, color, glaze, stoneware or stone. According to Mike, it’s all important for the correct presentation of a dish.

Kampachi crudo came next, served with cilantro, sesame and Aglio e Olio, presented on a salt slab. Another delight. There was a sharp freshness to the dish.

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Hugo’s Portland Maine is one of those places were a clear vision, enthusiasm and a love for ingredients shapes the place. Each night they offer three tasting menus; one for omnivores, one for pescetarians and one for vegetarians. If the tasting menu is too much, you can order a la carte. Or if you call ahead, there is the Pièce de résistance, the Chef’s tasting menu. You need to order that in advance. I understand it is quite a special experience. That’s what I will be having on my next visit

Mike’s final dish that evening proved to be a perfect finale for my visit: Maine diver scallops with blood oranges, served with pork-feet Chicharron. This brings “surf and turf” to new heights.

Hugo's Portland Maine for Great Portland Fare | Bearleader No.25

I visited in winter and the crowd seemed to be mostly locals. In warmer months, the population of Portland swells dramatically so this is one time when the Bearleader advises making reservations early. Or plan your visit off season as I did.

After an extraordinary afternoon of good food and conversation, I excused myself. Inspired by the food, atmosphere and good company, and with the sun now shining again, I made my way back to New York.

Thank you guys for sharing with me your great work.

Details

For directions and reservations; http://www.hugos.net/

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Taking the Train Back in Time

When the Bearleader was invited to take a day trip on the Belmond British Pullman train to York, we jumped at the chance. We are avid readers of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories, and to have the chance to briefly step into their fictional world of early-20th-Century travel glamor was too good to pass up. What better way to experience first hand what it would like to go along for the ride in an Agatha Christie novel?

Early in the morning we made our way to Victoria Station, platform No.10 to meet our train. After checking in you are directed to one of eleven coaches, each identified with a sign showing its original name; Audrey, Cygnus, Gwen, Ibis, Ilone, Lucille, Minerva, Perseus, Phoenix, Vera, and Zena. We had a private coupe compartment in Zena, a first-class parlor car with 24 seats. built in 1928 by Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Ltd, this carriage was recently used as a location for movie “Agatha” about Agatha Christie.

The train is owned and operated by the Belmond group. Researching the trains I was intrigued to learn about James Sherwood, the man who bought the trains and put them back on the tracks. He made his fortune in shipping and purchased two carriages at auction in Monte Carlo. Everyone thought he was crazy to buy something as useless as a couple of old train cars. After all, isn’t luxury train travel dead? Funny though, the British Airways Concorde has come and gone, but the great British Pullman trains are still chugging along, well frequented and still hugely popular. Belmond offers a variety of excursions and specialty trips (week-long, overnight and day trips) departing from Victoria Station to York, Scotland, Folkstone and Cornwall.

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The carriages are beautifully restored to their original condition. The interior detailing is just gorgeous. And since this kind of craftsmanship is rare in our modern world, being in these old rail cars, you really feel like you have stepped back in time.

The trip is part historic adventure and part fine dining on wheels, which calls for a bit more style than what normally passes for travel attire these days. Dressing up a bit makes sense since many people take this trip as a way of celebrating something, even if it is just a celebration of early train travel. I chatted with some of the other guests to see why they came on this trip. The responses were wide ranging, from anniversaries to birthdays, and a group of school friends celebrating and an engagement. Speaking of engagements, if that is your plan for the trip, the train is equipped with all the necessary props for your proposal. A special pillow for kneeling is on board and ready at a moments notice—in case the mood takes you.

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During the trip I took a walk through all 11 carriages to get an up-close-and-personal look at all the interior details, and to see how the staff managed in cramped and constantly moving quarters. It was quite something to see the staff glide up and down the train with hands full of dishes, always friendly and never a dropped plate. I on the other hand was thankful for the narrow hallways that several times prevented me from taking a spill. Planted firmly back in my lounge chair for dinner, I was amazed how the beautiful table settings also resisted the tendency to move back and forth with the train. Here you come to appreciate the sturdiness of old dishes and silver. Classic style, and with a weightiness to resist motion

And of course we should mention the food. One cannot help but make the comparison with what’s on offer in a modern train: a pack of crisps, a soda and a packaged sandwich if your lucky. No no, This is truly fine dining on wheels. A prix fixe menu drawn from British classic dishes, and of course all the ingredients, british caught, raised or otherwise produced on the Isles. And as you dine, all the while the picturesque English countryside is slowly passing by.

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If there was one thing that really set the stage for our trip back in time, it was the amazing original hand-crafted interiors. All the cars are wood paneled and each uses a different decorative motif, implemented in the paneling with a technique of wood inlay known as “marquetry”. Following our trip we researched this technique further, and discovered that the company that created the original cars is still in operation not far from London.

We couldn’t resist extending our story to include the back story on the interiors. so we made arrangements to meet Sheryl Dunn and her mother, the fifth generation to carry on this traditional craft at the company started by her great grandfather. An hour train ride from London we arrived at a wonderful old building, the home of A. Dunn and Son for the last two generations.

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Sheryl gave us a tour of the operation and demonstrated the various steps in producing marquetry. We learnt that all the intricate pieces of wood are cut with a special hand-saw rig called a “donkey”, that the special shading in the woodwork, so distinctive to marquetry, is produced with the “hot sand” technique, and that decorative panels are glued together with natural glues, the same as has been used for generations. Sheryl showed us that antique panels using natural glues, like the ones in the Pullman trains, can easily be heated and re-pressed to make them virtually like new. More recent work with modern glues is less flexible and once damaged, it is very difficult to restore. This is one example of how the old way is often the best way.

It was Sheryl’s grandfather who did the original work on the Pullman cars we rode in. As Sheryl tells it, when the Pullman cars were ready for restoration, the new owners were cleaning up and by chance happened across a loose receipt for the original marquetry panels. The receipt was from A. Dunn and Son, which led the new owners to put the restoration work back in the hands of the company that made them.

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During our tour Sheryl pointed out a large stack of architectural drawings and casually said: “somewhere in there are the drawings for the Titanic panels. But we don’t know what they look like since no photographs of the interiors were taken prior to the first voyage, so now there is no way to reference them”. Sheryl’s great grandfather did all the marquetry work for the Titanic. The schedule was so tight that there was no time to document the work before the maiden voyage. So that undoubtedly beautiful work was only briefly used, and never to be seen again. At least we can still see work of like quality in daily use by the Belmond British Pullman trains.

On the modern train back to London, with a bag of crisps and a plastic bottle of water in hand, I got a bit nostalgic for the British Pullman trains. Truly a journey through time. We cannot recommend this experience enough. All aboard!

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


For information and booking visit; www.belmond.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a trip on the Belmond British Pullman train? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Jack’s Wife Freda

Are you in New York City asking the perennial question, “Where shall we eat?” Well then, you’re going to want to check out Jack’s Wife Freda. For my money, this offers the best casual dining experience in the city. In the often crazy and pretentious New York restaurant scene, this is one bright spot you should get to know.

Since opening in 2012, it’s been one of my favorite places to hang out; one of those little gems that was popular from the start. But unlike many new restaurants in New York, this place got it right at the beginning, and now is thriving with a loyal following.

Visiting this time as a journalist rather than as a customer, I had the chance to get some face time with the owners and to delve a bit into what they set out to do with their first solo endeavor. Chatting with them about the restaurant, it finally made sense to me why I love this place and keep coming back time after time.

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The story began when owners Maya and Dean Jankelowitz moved to New York, Maya from Israel and Dean from South Africa. Both started working for famed restaurateur Keith McNally; Maya as Maître de at Balthazar, and Dean at Schillers. With a few years under their belts in these classic New York eateries, they struck out on their own with the financial backing of actress Piper Perabo—and then Jack’s Wife Freda was born.

First, you are probably wondering about the name. Jack and Freda are Dean’s grandparents, and as Dean tells it, they were quiet the hosts. And that home-spun hospitality became the centerpiece of the new restaurant.

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The food is local, fresh and simple, always with something surprising to try out. On this visit, house-cured duck bacon was on offer. An interesting idea, a first for me, and I really enjoyed it. For dinner, pan-seared duck breast was on the menu, something I have enjoyed in the past.

… you will soon start to notice the familiar faces of others who have also made Jack’s Wife Freda part of their morning ritual.

But today I am just in time for breakfast. They open at 9:00 am. This is convenient if you find yourself just off a flight and in need of a tasty start to your city excursions. I am particularly fond of the green Shahsuka with a refreshing cup of mint tea. If you are like me and end up making frequent return visits, you will soon start to notice the familiar faces of others who have also made Jack’s Wife Freda part of their morning ritual.

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A bit later in the day, try one of the house cocktail inventions. Ask a waiter what they recommend, or Maya herself who often comes up with these juicy treats. They change regularly, with the seasons or on a whim, so there is often a liquid surprise in store for you.

The room is charming, and although meticulously styled for relaxed dinning, I have to say that the ambience really comes from Maya and Dean. They put everyone at ease with their friendly relaxed manner and pleasant wit.

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The decor is bistro inspired with a modern touch. Attention to detail does not stop with the food and decor. Everything from sugar packs to hot-drink wraps is carefully crafted to fit perfectly with Maya and Dean’s vision of the kind of place that they want to come to every day.

Not planning a trip to New York anytime soon? You can still check out Maya’s adventures on Instagram. In her own words she is “obsessed with Instagram”, and, as you will see, a talented photographer.

I’m looking forward to another visit soon. Thank you Maya and Dean.

Details

For information, hours and menus; www.jackswifefreda.com

Maya’s Instagram account

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

A Few of My Favorite Things

… Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things.

Did Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers think schnitzel and noodles belonged together? Or did it just work out better in the phrasing. In any case, when in Austria, it is not noodles but potato or cucumber salad served with Schnitzel. And if you have a craving for it, you won’t find a better version of traditional Austrian Schnitzel than at Vienna restaurant Skopik and Lohn. On a recent visit I headed over to talk with co-owners Chef Horst Scheuer and wife Connie about food, their restaurant and Austrian cuisine.

Skopik and Lohn opened in 2006, but not where it was originally planned. But for a twist of fate, it might now be located on Orchard Street in New York. But as often happens in the volatile New York restaurant scene, the “money” backed out at the last minute. On re-evaluation, the best location for the project turned out to be 4,226 miles east, at Leopoldsgasse 17, Vienna.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Taking over the space of a former Gasthaus called Platzwirt, Skopik and Lohn opened in the Karmeliterviertel district, the old Jewish quarter of pre-war Vienna. The neighborhood has seen steady gentrification in recent years with a younger generation taking over and occupying the old infrastructure. It’s a diverse, dynamic neighborhood, quite mad at times but built on a solid traditional foundation. Now if you walk along Leopoldstrasse, which runs throughout the district center, you will find all manner of innovative new ventures with restaurants a-plenty to choose from. You could say the same of New York’s Lower East Side. So it is natural that Skopik and Lohn would have landed here.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Skopik and Lohn’s decor does not stray too far from the traditional Gasthaus style. In fact it is in large part unchanged from its previous owner, much like the best Gastropubs in London, where old venues are bought and restored by a new generation of chefs, bringing a modern twist to old establishments. However there is one decorative element unique to Skopik and Lohn. It’s quite simple, but a stroke of genius, and boldly stakes the new owners claim to the space. With his characteristic low key style, Horst asked Artist Otto Zitko to “have a go” at the ceiling. This takes doodling to a whole new level.

The lighting is also something to remember. Small paper bags each outfitted with a tea light make for a very special ambience in the dining room and, weather permitting, outdoors. If you happen to be in Vienna in the summer or early fall, ask to sit in the “Schanigarten”, Viennese slang for the outdoor seating area: so nice when the weather is good.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Staff are all outfitted in traditional white coat attire. It reminds you of the way waiters used to dress in formal establishments and is another subtle nod to the historical underpinnings of the space.

You really don’t want to debate Schnitzel with a local. You will find as many opinions as there are people willing to express them. My personal opinion is: you like what you are used to. When I was growing up, Wiener Schnitzel was most often prepared at home by your mother, grandmother or an aunt, and you got used to that preparation. So now whatever tastes like that, is the “best” Schnitzel.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

For the uninitiated, Schnitzel is a cut of meat tenderized by pounding and then breaded and fried. I find that in many Viennese restaurants, the dish suffers from an effort to make the meat larger than the plate. It is unruly, and this quest for size does nothing for the flavor or texture of the dish. It just gets cold faster. This is Schnitzel for tourists, and is more useful as a Facebook post than as something to eat.

… there is one decorative element unique to Skopik and Lohn … Horst asked Artist Otto Zitko to “have a go” at the ceiling. This takes doodling to a whole new level.

I prefer Horst’s, the more subtle and contemporary presentation, cut in half and served in two pieces – an old-school full-lard preparation. The old way is the right way – in my opinion. Horst told me a few other tricks he uses, but swore me to secrecy. Between you and me though, I think he will probably tell you if you ask nicely.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Schnitzel not your thing? There are lots of other dishes, all new takes on traditional Austrian favorites. I also sampled the salmon with avocado and cherry tomatoes, the calf cheeks with lavage puree, and the young salmon with pea puree and amaranth.

You may be curious about the name Skopik and Lohn. This goes to heart of Horst’s life-long love of food and his dedication to tradition and modernity in equal measure. Horst grew up in Lower Austria. In fact his parents operated a local restaurant. Nearby was an eatery, as Horst tells it, way ahead of its time. That restaurant was the work of Josef Skopik and greatly influenced Horst in his early years. It was distinguished by the fact that it contained an American style bowling alley – a strange combination that is documented in a great black and white photograph in the restaurant.

No.16 | Skopik and Lohn, A Few of My Favorite Things

Upon moving to Vienna, Horst became acquainted with restaurateur and raconteur Michi Lohn, a mainstay of the Viennese art scene. For years he famously hosted a weekly gathering of artists and eccentrics called Kunstlabor Stammtisch (Art Laboratory Roundtable). Skopik & Lohn can be seen as the amalgamation of Horst’s experiences with these distinctive characters in local lore.

When you are done with your meal don’t rush off. It is traditional to enjoy an espresso or final small glass of wine (say “ein achterl weisswein bitte”) at the bar on your way out. A great start to exploring Vienna by night.

Details

Opening hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 6pm-1am. www.skopikundlohn.at

For more information on Artist Otto Zitko; www.ottozitko.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Foraging for Food

As I put pen to paper to recall my foraging expereince, I am just around the corner from the former St. Vincent hospital in New York where, in November 1953 at the age of 39, the Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas passed away. Along with Richard Burton, he is one of the most well-known sons of Wales.

On December 14, 1944, nine years before Thomas’ legendary drinking got the better of him, he recorded a reading for the BBC of a wonderfully lyrical description he wrote of the quaint village of New Quay on the south coast of Wales where he was in residence at the time.

“Who lived in these cottages? I was a stranger to the sea town, fresh or stale from the city where I worked for my bread and butter wishing it were Laver-bread and country salty butter yolk-yellow Fishermen certainly; no painters but of boats: no man-dressed women with shooting-sticks and sketch-books and voices like macaws to paint the reluctant heads of critical and sturdy natives who posed by the pint against the chapel-dark sea which would be made more blue than the bay of Naples, though shallower.”

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

Reading Thomas’ words now transports me to my recent trip to the very spot where those words were recorded, and my first hearing of the term “laver-bread” (pronounced LAW-ver). I was on my way to a small patch of Welsh coast known as Fresh Water West, to meet chef and expert at seaside foraging, Jonathan Williams.

When I contacted Jonathan about foraging for food with him, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived at the beach early in the morning at low tide according to Jonathan’s instructions. The beach and surrounding area is part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. If you are a fan of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you will have seen Fresh Water West. The shell cottage was located right on this extraordinarily wide beach where I now stood.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

Jonathan’s Cafe Mor (mor means “sea” in Welsh) at Fresh Water West is open daily during the summer season from May to mid-September. They serve fresh food, mostly sourced locally, and a range of packaged goods under Jonathan’s brand, Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company.

Fresh Water West is a nature reserve so no fixed structures are allowed in the park. Cafe Mor, therefore, is on wheels arriving in tow early each morning.

I ventured out onto the beach and across the tidal pools with Jonathan, on his daily harvest. Rocky outcrops divide the vast areas of flat sandy beach, with grass-covered dunes behind. On the day of my visit, the sky mirrored the landscape with spacious blue interrupted regularly by fluffy clouds drifting by making for a dramatic and constantly evolving light show.

This stretch of beach is perfect for foraging, an edible feast of seaweed. Jonathan took me through the different habitats, each with its own characteristic seaweed species. Some of the varieties we sampled were Sea Spaghetti, Sea Moss-Caragheen, Dulse and Laver-bread or Bara lawr, as it is called in Welsh. If you’ve had Sushi, you have had Laver-bread. In Japan seaweed is washed, dried and flattened into sheets called Nori. Laver-bread in Wales is prepared in a very different and much moister form.

When I contacted Jonathan about foraging for food with him, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived at the beach early in the morning at low tide according to Jonathan’s instructions.

In fact just behind where Jonathan forages, you can see one of the original seaweed drying huts. It has been restored by the national trust as a reminder of this important local food source in the history of Wales. At the height of the local Laver-bread industry, there were as many as 20 huts along the beach, each one maintained by a local family from the nearby town of Angle. Seaweed harvesting was a thriving cottage industry in the area throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and was still in operation as recently as 1950.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

The first recorded Laver-bread description was written by William Camden in his work, Britannia. There he vividly describes the springtime harvesting of Laver-bread at the beach of Eglwys Abernon, dating back to 1607. In 1862 we find another mention, from the writer George Borrow, who wrote in Wild Wales, that he ate “moor mutton” with piping hot Laver sauce. In recent years Laver-bread seems to have fallen from favor, but with renewed interest in the reviving of old customs and traditions it is coming back and can now be found on the menus of some of the more interesting UK restaurants.

One person described Laver-bread to me as the Welshman’s caviar. It is black, salty and has a very distinct taste, but that’s about as far as it goes. So how do you eat Laver-bread? Typically the raw seaweed is boiled for about 40 minutes until it breaks down. Then it is layered out to drain away all the excess moisture. It is served as a side dish in a kind of stewed or fried form with many local foods such as cockles, sausage, or bacon and eggs, which makes for a very hearty breakfast. Laver-bread is exceptionally healthy, containing iron, iodine and over 50 vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C and D as well as some B-Complex. Laver-bread was a dietary staple for hard-working miners who would take it with them into the pit for flavor and energy.

At the lowest tide, the rocks furthest out are revealed. And this is where you find some of the most interesting seaweed delicacies. Wading around in water up to our knees, Jonathan pointed out a variety called Dulse, and picked a sample for me to try. He handed me a bunch of small purple colored fronds and asked me, “What it taste like”. It was familiar, but when you are eating raw seaweed while standing in a big puddle it is hard to put the flavor in context. When Jonathan said, “It is also called the truffle of the sea,” it clicked. It really does taste just like truffles with a touch of pepper and, as it grows marinating in salt water half of every day and night, it really is pre-seasoned to perfection. It’s delicious.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

Jonathan opened my eyes to the great variety of flavors growing in the tides. Eating sushi, I had never really noticed the taste of Nori. It seemed more of an edible container rather than an actual food itself. Now I see it in a whole different light. The different seaweeds Jonathan showed me were all amazingly flavorful, with distinct and, surprisingly, non-“seaweedy” flavors.

We foraged for about two hours, taking in the natural environment and tasting as we walked. It’s a totally unique and delightful experience. You can arrange a foraging excursion with Jonathan via his website (http://www.cafemor.co.uk/index.php). He will show you some amazing things the sea has to offer, tell great stories … and provide a picnic to boot.

A note of caution: It is prohibited to forage on your own. You need a license, and expertise, to ensure that the seaweed is harvested in a way that keeps it growing for future generations. Jonathan is an accomplished forager and licensed to harvest.

After our trek through the tidal pools, Jonathan prepared one of Cafe Mor’s signature dishes, a seashore wrap: pan-fried flatbread with Pembrokeshire bacon, cockle and laver-bread mixed with egg and cream—absolutely delicious! And it was packed with enough energy to fuel a long walk along the dunes to enjoy the rest of the wonderful scenic views.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

As the tide came in, the beach grew smaller and smaller and the rocks slowly disappeared, immersing all that seaweed in the swirling waves to grow again for another harvest.

Details

Foraging: Jonathan runs both scheduled and private foraging trips. Check the Website for scheduled times and be sure to book early, the groups fill up fast. Costs start from: £25 per adult, £10 per child (Under 12’s), Free for kids 5 years or under. Email Jonathan directly to arrange a private foraging event.

Cafe Mor at Fresh Water West: Opening times follow the parks schedule. And be aware that times may vary from day to day. So its best to check their Twitter feed for the latest.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea

I got the chance to visit St. Ives, Cornwall, at the end of September. It seemed a bit late in the season for a beach-town visit but sometimes you have to say “why not?”… What I found was blue skies, quiet streets, wide open beaches, and tables readily available at the best restaurants.

On Sunday night I boarded the Night Riviera train at Paddington Station. I booked a sleeping compartment imagining I was in a Miss Marple story. I arrived early the next morning rested, and fortunately, no one had come to a mysterious end during the night.

After dropping off my bags at Trevose Guest House with owners Angela and Oli Noverraz, I headed across town to the St Ives Surf School on Porthemore Beach. Learning to Surf was really my main objective on this trip, but I must admit I have never engaged much with bodies of salt water. I was born in a land-locked country. I appreciate the beauty of the sea but more from an aesthetic point of view, well above sea level.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

I had decided it was high time to tackle this fear. Katy at the St Ives Surf School checked the tides to see when the next class would be, and booked me in. The instructor for my class, Simon, also happened to be on hand when I arrived, and he and Katy expressed such certainty that all would be okay and that I would be riding waves by the end of the lesson, that I had no choice but to believe them.

My fellow students were a diverse bunch: different ages, men and women, and all different fitness levels. And everyone seemed as excited as me about the prospect of riding a wave for the first time.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

Simon first gave us a safety rundown, taught us what the flags on the beach meant and, most important, showed us the hand signal to indicate that you’re in trouble – arm straight up with fist clenched, in case you are wondering. Then, he taught us some physics about how to distribute your weight on the board to avoid a nose dive, shared the two techniques for standing up, and we were off to the surf.

I had decided it was high time to tackle this fear. Katy at the St Ives Surf School checked the tides to see when the next class would be, and booked me in.

Simon shouted encouragement and tips from waist-deep water as we struggled to keep board, wave, and body all going in the same direction. Two hours later, completely exhausted, we all had a few decently ridden waves under our belts. I have to say the experience was absolutely exhilarating. I am hooked, as were the others.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

After drying off and getting back into some warm clothes we were off to the Portemore Beach Cafe, next to the St Ives Surf School, for a good cup of tea. What a great feeling.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

I settled into my comfortable bed at the Trevose Guest House early that night. I was completely knackered. Apparently there are some muscles you use in surfing that are not generally used. I really was sore.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

Next day, after enjoying Oli’s fantastic breakfast, he and Angela invited me along for a tour of the studio of the late artist, Sandra Blow. Each Thursday her studio is opened to the public (by appointment and for a small fee to keep the estate maintained) by trustees Jon Grimble and his partner Artist Denny Long. Everything is just as she left it. Various materials and art supplies lie in place, her abstract paintings adorn the walls, and her eccentric wardrobe still hangs on a coat rack in the studio.

Like many artists Sandra Blow moved to St. Ives for the amazing light. Jon, her long-time friend, talked vividly about the beginnings of her art career in Chelsea, and her creative process. I found that part the most interesting. A fabulous morning.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

For lunch I met up with Australian Chef Michael Smith, owner of Porthminster Beach Cafe. I had read about him and have his cook book, so I was eager to meet him.

The restaurant is on the second floor of a white Art Deco building lovingly restored to house the restaurant. I’m told that in summer the place is buzzing. Now, everyone seems to be enjoying a bit of a breather from the crowds. Michael uses only fresh local ingredients so seafood figures prominently on the menu. I had the Monkfish Curry, one of his signature dishes, and ate the Sticky Braised Pork Cheeks with wasabi puree, peanuts and prawns. A modern take on surf and turf.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

The temperature was pleasantly cool. Sometimes warm when the wind was calm and a bit chilly when the wind picked up. Most people were still out in flip-flops and shorts. I’m always cold so I stood out a bit, dressed in my winter garb. The locals have an interesting theory about the temperature this time of year. The air temperature declines at a much faster rate than the sea and it is around this time that they equal out. So the theory goes that it actually feels less cold than in the summer because you feel the same in or out of the water. I was skeptical, but after my firsthand experience, it did kind of work that way.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

Over my three-day stay I would constantly run into people I had met: My fellow students and I would exchange sore muscle stories, I got the thumbs up from the real surfers that have seen me floundering about in the surf, and even some of the shop owners I frequented got to know my name. St. Ives has a quiet charm in the off season with a lovely mix of people.

On the train ride out of town the track winds around the edge of the bay until it heads back inland. With the sun setting the light was, as usual, magnificent. It is easy to see why, for many years, artists and surfers alike have been drawn to make St. Ives their home.

Details

To arrive via the Night Riviera Sleeper train:
Depart from Paddington and change trains in the morning at St Erth. From there it is a short trip to St. Ives which is at the end of the line.

For the best guest house accommodation in St. Ives: www.trevosehouse.co.uk

For breakfast, lunch or tea on Porthmeor Beach:
www.porthmeor-beach.co.uk

For breakfast, lunch or dinner on Porthminster Beach:
www.porthminstercafe.co.uk

To arrange a private visit to the Sandra Blow Estate:
Call Jon Grimble 011 44 (0)1736 756 006. Note: Drop the “(0)” if dialing internationally. Tours can usually be arranged each Thursday.

For surfing lessons:
www.stivessurfschool.co.uk
Telephone: 011 44 (0)1736 793 938 Cell: 011 44 (0)7527 477 492 Note: Drop the “(0)” if dialing internationally. Email: info@stivessurfschool.co.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger