Why Puglia Was Not The Rustic Dream Holiday I Thought it Would be

I think sometimes I big up a destination in my head so much, that it can’t live up to expectation.

And I was very excited about my rustic holiday to Puglia (the heel of Italy).

I’d heard it was a less touristy region than many places in Italy, and it would be very rural and simple, and that I’d be able to eat amazing food for very little money.

So I was a bit grumpy at discovering on arrival, a lot of tourists and restaurants very much catering for them.  They were ruining my authentic experience of Southern Italy!  Damn you Justin Timberlake for getting married in Puglia and starting an influx of American visitors and unrusticking it.

We didn’t help ourselves by getting into the habit of eating croissants every morning.  Not sure what we were thinking as they are not bloody Italian.  Then for lunch, out of ease we started eating pucce (Puglian ciabatta) toasties with proscuitto and mozzarella every day – very nice, but it’s not exactly an enriching culinary experience. And in the evenings we weren’t faring much better, and frankly kept making crap, touristy, lazy choices.

On our fourth day, I broke my croissant fix and chose an Italian chocolate cake for breakfast.  And omg it was so stale.  It was the last straw.  I had a massive grumble to Jamie and said I wasn’t having the authentic Italian experience I wanted. Poor Jamie, I really moaned.  I banged on about all the amazing, cheap mind blowing meals I’d had in Italy on my 7 previous trips, and that I was disappointed.  In hindsight though, I was lumping together all the food highlights from each trip, leaving my perspective a bit skewed.

So we got a bit more organised and started scrutinising reviews on TripAdvisor before making restaurant choices, and just generally being a bit more fussy, and I also conceded that we might have to pay for quality (gasp!).

And guess what? Things got better.

Highlights included the chewiest chocolatiest torte, a divine carrot and orange cake, a very melty piece of lamb, two phenomenal octopus sandwiches (so fresh), a super crispy lasagne made with spinach lasagne sheets and lamb, a beautiful aubergine and cheese ravioli, oh yes and lets not forget cannoli – deep fried pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta.

Puglia Deep fried Octopus in a bun - heaven!
Deep fried Octopus in a bun – heaven!
Puglia Aubergine and cheese ravioli
Aubergine and cheese ravioli
Puglia Possibly the best lamb I've ever eaten
Possibly the best lamb I’ve ever eaten
Puglia Breakfast at a proper old fashioned Italian cake shop - a culinary success this time!
Breakfast at a proper old fashioned Italian cake shop – a culinary success this time!

And do you know what, despite a bit of whinging on my part, we had a really nice holiday, Puglia is beautiful, and most of it is rustic.  In particular I fell in love with the remote and rugged beaches, with the bluest, clearest seas.  And the ancient towns and villages at the top of hills like Lecce and Ostuni are gorgeous.  And in terms of taking photos, it’s pure Instagram gold. Lovely light, beautiful crumbly old buildings, colourful doors, blue seas – it was iPhone photo ecstasy!

Puglia This was an olive oil tasting at a fabulous olive farm visited
This was an olive oil tasting at a fabulous olive farm visited
Puglia Beautiful Punta Proscuitto beach
Beautiful Punta Proscuitto beach




Tuesday Night Pig Out at The Con Club, Altrincham

Last night I headed out to the Con Club to meet my friend Kate for dinner.  It was Tuesday night, so a proper meal out felt rather extravagent, but having just got back from my holiday, it seemed like the perfect way to try and distract myself from my post holiday blues.

The Con Club is opposite Altrincham Market and is a gorgeous venue – it’s an old building (1887) that was renovated last year, and the Con Club opened as a restaurant in November. It’s a really trendy, beautiful place now – spacious, high ceilinged, modern and fun.

Con Club The beautiful interior of the Con Club
The beautiful interior of the Con Club

We arrived at 7.30pm and the place was buzzing! Who knew that Altrincham is the place to be on a Tuesday night? I ordered a Yakatori Beef dish with Asian veg and Kate went for a sirloin steak with fries.  We were both very pleased with our choices.

Con Club Yakatori Beef dish with Asian veg
Yakatori Beef dish with Asian veg

Having just got back from Italy I ordered a Italian wine: Levorato Primativo.  It was fruity and delicious.  And I felt like I earned myself some brownie points for not staying safe and ordering my usual glass of Malbec.  Check out my recent Help, I’m in Wine Rut blog post to read more about my attempts to push myself out of my wine comfort zone.

We both finished off with decadent puddings, I chose a carrot cake with coconut sorbet and Kate opted for a chocolate lava cake with popcorn ice-cream.  My carrot cake was excellent, but I have to confess to having pudding envy for Kate’s dessert, which she described as the most chocolately cakey extravaganza she’d ever eaten.

con club chocolate lava cake with popcorn ice-cream
chocolate lava cake with popcorn ice-cream

We both had a superb evening at the Con Club, it’s lively, stunning to look at, the food is fabulous, and the staff couldn’t have done enough for us, making us feel very spoilt and well looked after.

The Easiest Homemade Lemon Curd in Just Ten Minutes

Honestly this is ridiculously easy and so impressive.  It’s a good one for showing off if you’ve got friends coming to stay, think of their faces when you whip out homemade lemon curd in the morning to go on sourdough toast!

It’s also great as a filling in a victoria sponge.


  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 125ml lemon juice
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 large eggs


Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, then add the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and eggs.

Keep the saucepan at a medium heat, and while heating, whisk the ingredients continuously. After about 5 minutes it will turn into a custard.  When it’s suitably thick, you’re lemon curd is ready.

Once cooled, pour into a sterlised jar and store in the fridge.

Lemon curd juice the lemons
Juice the lemons
lemon curd Whisk the ingredients over a medium heat
Whisk the ingredients over a medium heat

Help, I’m in a Wine Rut!

I do love a glass of wine, but I’ve definitely fallen out of love with Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc, my go to supermarket picks.  I know there’s more to wine than this. Surely I could be giving my tastebuds a bit more of an adventure?

Who better to assist me in broadening my wine horizons, than Janet Harrison who runs Cracking Wine? And here she is with a load of great suggestions, I can’t wait to tuck in:

Cracking Wine Janet taking in the aromas of a nice rosé
Janet taking in the aromas of a nice rosé

So, a refreshing change to be asked if I’d tried any good wines recently.  You see my friend Katya is in what I call a wine buying rut.  Like most people she’s a bit tired of Sauvignon Blanc (you’ll get there eventually) and so overwhelmed with the amount of ‘easy drinking reds’ on offer, she tends to keep buying the same ones.

The up side of having such great supermarket ranges and independent wine stores is that we all have a huge choice, but as anyone who shops in the massive M&S in Manchester will tell you, it is easier to pick the nearest thing and make a bolt for it – and who buys all those cardigans?

Anyway, I digress.

I only need to flick through the recent pictures on my smartphone to see what I’ve been slurping recently – not that I NEED to photograph to remember (ahem).

You see my glass is always full – well, that’s until it’s empty of course.

Here are my current top picks if, like Katya, you are stuck in a wine buying rut.  There are versions of all these wines at supermarkets, independent stores and in restaurants, it all depends on your budget and whether you are splurging at the weekend or just celebrating #WineWednesday.

White for easy drinking/light meals:

Albariño: A good news story from the Galicia region of Spain and gorgeous wine too (think of Al Pacino if you can’t remember the name).  The one I bought that is pictured below is from Define Food and Wine.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous wine shop, deli and cafe near Nantwich.

White wine for more substantial meals or cheese:

Montagny: This is a white wine from Burgundy – enough said.  If you are an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) I challenge you to try, but do so with some cheese or light meat dishes which have a creamy sauce.  This is a fabulous one from Waitrose, and Aldi will be bringing out a corking version in November.


Light easy drinking red:

Wines from Portugal seem to be everywhere at the moment.  Try this Porta 6 from Majestic Wine – it also has a jolly picture of a Lisbon tramcar on the front.


Cracking Wine A Montagny, a Porta 6 and an Albariño. Happy drinking times ahead for Katya!
A Montagny, a Porta 6 and an Albariño. Happy drinking times ahead!

Heavier red with hearty meals:

Warning….splurge alert!  I’m not a massive fan of Australian Shiraz – I find it a bit overpowering sometimes, but this Vinteloper Shiraz from the Adelaide Hills is certainly worth the cash.  Imported by the fabulously quirky Red Squirrel Wines, they seek out rare and special wines made with love.

It is delicious!

You’re very welcome.


Cracking Wine
Don’t drop the Vinteloper Shiraz! It’s £40’s worth of wine.

Janet Harrison runs Cracking Wine, providing fun and informal wine tasting events in the North.  She also runs the only wine festival dedicated to Champagne and Sparkling wine in the UK, it’s called the Fizz Festival and it’s coming up in November at Altrincham Town Hall.





Mama Z Filipino Disco

Sounds exotic doesn’t it? Well as it happens, it was a pretty extraordinairy and colourful night, so it lived up to it’s name.

Last night (Friday 15th September), Jamie and I ventured into town to attend this Filipino style food pop up.

Having been invited by a friend, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what I’d signed up to, apart from some good Filipino food (which was enough of an incentive for me).

What I hadn’t expected was the awesomeness that is 101 North Western Street, it’s a superb craft beer bar, bottle shop and event space which is in a huge, warehousey type building under a railway arch. It’s near Manchester Piccadilly station.  This place has attitude. And even better there was a DJ playing excellent music and the whole venue had been decked out with Filipino style decorations.  It all felt very tropical (despite it actually being quite nippy).

I decided to start the night by sampling a Belgian beer from the bar.  I opted for a 8.5 % Delirium, which was utterly delicious, but made me very excitable very quickly. There was quite a party atmosphere so being a bit merry helped! We were sharing a table with a young couple who happened to be friends of Mama Z (the chef), and while we were waiting for our food to be served we got chatting to the lovely Stefan and Tuesday.

filipino disco Delicious Delirium
Delicious Delirium

The glorious Filipino menu we were served consisted of:

  • Nibbles: ‘pulutan’ (fried pork puffs)
  • Starter: fried lumpia (or fried spring rolls) and dipping sauces
  • Main: ‘ulam’ (or chicken adobo) and ‘gulay’ vegetables (butternut squash with coconut and lemongrass) served with rice
  • Dessert: gorgeous fried plantain spring rolls with caramel sauce and crushed peanuts

Each freshly prepared dish arrived with a craft beer that had been hand picked by Mama Z to match the flavours of the food.

Filipino Disco in full swing
Filipino Disco in full swing

The food was great, my favourite being the gulay vegetables and the plantain spring rolls. I do have photos of the food, but they are so blurry and dark you won’t be able to make any sense of them! Check Mama Z out on Instagram for a better idea.

A revelation for me was how much I enjoyed the beers.  I’m not a big beer drinker, but I loved every single one – even the stout (Wild Beer Millioniaire). And the beer drinking definitely helped with the whole disco vibe as we were chatting and laughing all night with Stefan and Tuesday.

So all in all, an absolutely buzzing, brilliant and tasty night.  Make sure you get down to the next Filipino Disco.

Thanks to Skiddle for inviting us as guests.  All opinions and words are my own.




Bush Craft Antics With Fresh Walks

When I arrived at Henbury Hall in Macclesfield on Monday morning for ‘Fresh Walks Wild’ I had very little idea how the day was going to pan out.

I regularly go for hearty networking walks in the Peak District with Fresh Walks.  They are always, without fail, energising, great fun and useful for business.

However this was a new version, a bush crafting event run by Lewis Herridge at Re:You.

I’m relaxed about going on a 14 mile hike up Kinder with the Fresh Walkers as I know what to expect, but would I like making fires and shelters with this lot? Would it be as much fun?

As it turns out, it exceeded expectations, and we had a blast.

What made me instantly happy on arrival was that everyone was sitting round a real campfire drinking tea.  Winner. I felt instantly at ease.  And even better there was a ‘wild’ toilet.  I had wondered if we’d be peeing in the bushes, so this unexpected luxury pleased me no end.

Fresh Walks Wild At 9.30am this was the cosy campfire scene
At 9.30am this was the cosy campfire scene I entered
Fresh Walks Wild The luxury 'wild' toilet
The luxury ‘wild’ toilet

We took a while drinking our teas and chatting before things got started, which was a very nice start to the day.  Then Lewis got us on our a feet for a little tour of the camp and talked us through the four most important things for survival in the wild: shelter, water, fire and food. We were then put in groups and asked to find items in the local woodland to represent ways of tackling those four areas of survival.

My group embraced the task with enthusiasm, and having recently watched Bear Grylls Celebrity Island, I felt I had a lot of expertise to offer the group.

We chose:

  • nettles for eating
  • some dung because where there’s animal droppings there’s usually water nearby, and you can burn it
  • moss because you can squeeze water out of it
  • some sticks of wood to burn, or build a shelter.

We then had a big group show and tell with our items. It was a proud moment displaying our dung.

Fresh Walks Wild Lewis demonstrating the various uses of stinging nettles in the wild
Lewis demonstrating the various uses of stinging nettles in the wild

Our next job was building a fire.  Lewis showed us a variety of ways of getting a fire started ranging from putting some wire wool on a battery, to sparking flint against steal and then using the sparks to light a tampon.  As you can imagine as mature adults we all found lighting a fire with tampons absolultely hilarious.  We all had a little practise which you could tell everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Fresh Walks Wild Lewis showing us how to get a fire going
Lewis showing us how to get a fire going
Fresh Walks Wild Andy Fleet using the primal flint and steel method to get sparks flying
Andy Fleet using the primal flint and steel method to get sparks flying
Fresh Walks Wild All the men mesmerised by the process of lighting fires
All the men mesmerised by the process of lighting fires

Then is was competition time.  We were split into three groups.  We now not only had to get a flame going, we had to build a proper fire.  For each group, Lewis stuck two sticks in the ground and tied a piece of string across them at about 60 cm up from the ground.  The first group to burn the string would be the winners.

Unfortunately, myself and my group were not the most talented fire makers and came last (and even then we cheated).  It was a fascinating activity though.

Fresh Walks Wild Look at the pride in our faces!
Look at the pride in our faces!

Next up lunch, to which I have to confess I contributed absolutely nothing. A few of the guys got busy chopping veg and knocked up a beef stew, although ingredients were admittedly shop bought and not foraged.  The stew pot was thrown on the fire to cook, which gave us all a lovely hour or so to just sit around, drink tea, eat biscuits, enjoy the fire and chat.

After our hearty meal was the final challenge of the day. Building a shelter.  Lewis got us to examine a shelter that had already been made so we could understand how to create one, then we were asked to source the materials for building our own (although to be fair Lewis gave us a load of wood to get us started).  After 90 minutes of collecting mud, branches and rhoddidendrum leaves, we had our very own rather fabulous looking shelter.

Fresh Walks Wild Shelter in progress
Shelter in progress
Fresh Walks Wild The Final Shelter
The final shelter
Fresh Walks Wild Obviously I had to road test it and it was very cosy!
Obviously I had to road test it and it was very cosy!

We then rewarded ourselves with a final cup of tea, some bourbon biscuits and a final soaking up of the campfire.

I went home feeling more connected to nature, very chilled and very happy. Thanks Lewis. And of course thanks to Michael Di Paola from Fresh Walks for organising.

It’s All Mixed Up at Fraiche

Last night I enjoyed the second meal of my life at a michelin starred restaurant.  It was at Fraiche in a gorgeous little village called Oxon, on the Wirral.

We had a really lovely night, and the food (well 80% of it!) was excellent.

I would recommend it, because it was exciting, interesting and we felt very spoilt and well looked after, and actually it was relatively inexpensive (for a michelin starred restaurant).

However, would I go back there again? No, I don’t think so, not unless they radically rebranded, no.

Firstly, I wasn’t a fan of the decor.  It just felt like something between a living room and a nightclub, with no natural light whatsoever.

There were blinds at the front of the restaurant, but they were shut and the rest of the restaurant was low lit and candlelit, and in honesty, it felt a bit too dark (hence the lack of any photos!). And I think I can best describe the interior as confused.  Video footage of flowers and rollercoasters were projected onto the walls to create atmosphere, and a lot of the ‘slanty’ trendy furniture felt a bit tacky.  It’s not that anything was individually bad as such, it just didn’t add up to create a overall alligned effect.

And this theme of disjointedness flowed into the food.  It was very delicious, but it felt like it was being interesting for the sake of being modern and whacky.  It seemed like ingredients frozen with liquid nitrogen kept appearing in dishes, but it didn’t necessarily improve the flavour, it felt like it was for show.  For example, at the beginning of the night we had an entree of a parmesan frozen lollipop.  A cool idea, but it didn’t taste of anything.

I must stress again that we did have a delightful evening, we really did.  The staff were so attentive and knowledgeable – we couldn’t have felt more special, which played a huge part in us having such a great night.

There really were some stunning dishes on the menu.  The wild sea bass with fennel and butter milk with a smoky squid ink crisp was awesome and beautifully plated.  And the blackberry, apple and verbana mousse ‘thing’, was sweet and tart in all the right ways, it was quite something. I wish I could describe it better to you, but I’d had quite a bit of Sancerre by the 11th course, so my memory is a bit blurred.

The cheeseboard was super impressive.  We got to choose five cheeses from a trolley packed with about 30 intriguing looking cheeses. Our waiter absolutely came into his own at this stage, he really knew his cheeses and was incredibly passionate.  We got five gorgeous slabs with cute little accompaniments, such as quince jelly and dried blueberries, especially chosen to go with each cheese.  It was good stuff.

I’m really glad I went to Fraiche, but I just feel like someone needs to sit down with the owner and get him to strip back and decide, is he running a michelin starred restaurant or a nightclub? I’d be far more interested in authentic food that’s part of a more cohesive menu served in a simple setting, as opposed to the slightly jarring food and decor we experienced.

Please note the image used is not from Fraiche restaurant, it’s a stock photo.