All posts by mirandasnotebook

Tea & Tattle Podcast: Skye McAlpine Discusses ‘A Table in Venice’

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the food writer Skye McAlpine, who recently published her first cookbook, A Table in Venice. Although originally from Britain, Skye’s parents moved to Venice when she was a young girl, and she now splits her time between London and Venice.

For years, Skye wrote about her love for Venetian home cooking and simple, fresh ingredients on her blog and instagram account, building a large audience of  followers who appreciate her delicious recipes and exquisite photography. 

‘A Table in Venice’ by Skye McAlpine

I’ve been a fan of Skye’s blog for many years, and I was so excited to get my copy of her cookbook. It doesn’t disappoint! A Table in Venice is a thing of beauty, with marbled end papers, pale pink pages and full-page photographs featuring the very best food and scenery Venice has to offer.

Skye McAlpine

In our chat together, Skye tells me why she thinks Venetian cuisine is Italy’s best kept secret, how to avoid the common tourist traps of Venice, her favourite morning ritual and so much more.

This is the perfect episode to get you in the mood for long summer evenings spent lingering over dinner tables in the garden, and it’ll definitely make you want to hop on a plane to sample some of those special brioche buns yourself!

Listen to learn more about Skye’s cookbook, A Table in Venice.

Talitha McQueen Shares Her Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen's Secret Seven London

I’m so pleased to be starting a new series on Miranda’s Notebook, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Talitha McQueen’s Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen (@rubyandb)

I’m so delighted that my lovely friend Talitha is kicking off my Secret Seven London column with seven fantastic recommendations. I first met Talitha on a press trip to Paris, and I’ve followed her gorgeous instagram account ever since.

Talitha is an Australian turned Londoner, who loves capturing the city’s prettiest destinations, from old-fashioned shopping arcades to peaceful parks. Talitha is a mum of three, an incredible photographer and an inspirational business woman. She runs her successful Etsy shop, Ruby and B, where she sells prints and other products that feature her signature romantic shots of London, New York and Paris.

Talitha also writes a blog about her family life and London adventures, and she recently shared a fantastic guide to capturing wisteria in Kensington. You can follow along Talitha’s gorgeous wisteria shots and showcase your own using her #wisteriawanders hashtag.

Here are Talitha’s Secret Seven London Destinations:

1. The Wallace Collection

This museum isn’t a well known tourist spot, so it is often quiet and lovely to wander through. The Wallace Collection hosts an amazing assortment of art and ceramics, but I also go for the interiors and the stunning conservatory where you can enjoy tea and scones.

2. St Dunstan in the East

A few minutes walk from London Bridge are the ruins of this gorgeous church. I love the way nature is reclaiming the area, and it’s a stunning place in Autumn when the leaves are golden.

3. The Horniman Museum and Gardens

Located in Forest Hill, this fantastic museum has an aquarium and mini farm, so it’s great for children as well. I go for the stunning Victorian conservatory and the farmers’ market held most weekends.

4. Dulwich Picture Gallery and Dulwich Village

Dulwich Village is a delightful little area that has a wonderful gallery and a really beautiful park too.

5. Peckham Common

The Japanese Garden within Peckham Common is just stunning in Spring. Take a picnic and sit under the cherry blossoms. You may even spot some ducklings!

6. Nunhead Cemetery

This little known cemetery is a must visit if you’re a fan of gothic architecture. The gothic Anglican chapel is beautiful, and there are also spectacular views over London to St Paul’s Cathedral.

7. Columbia Road Flower Market

My absolute favourite way to spend a Sunday is at Columbia Road. Get there early to avoid the crowds and be sure to stop at Lily Vanilli for a cupcake.

~

keep up with Talitha’s website, shop, instagram, facebook, pinterest and twitter

connect with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

Note: all photographs excepting header image provided by Talitha McQueen

An Interview with Artist Yvonne Coomber (+ An Incredible Giveaway!)

yvonne coomber

An Exciting Art Collaboration

Listeners of Tea & Tattle Podcast may remember that earlier in the spring, the artist Yvonne  Coomber kindly let me pick out a print from her new collection as part of a collaboration with Miranda’s Notebook. I decided to send the print to my podcast co-host, Sophie, as a housewarming gift (I asked Sophie which print she’d like, and she chose this one, which was the one I would have selected for her myself – isn’t it lovely?).

Today, I’m so thrilled to say that Yvonne is giving away one of her new limited edition prints to a Miranda’s Notebook follower (you can enter the giveaway now through my instagram picture, or scroll to the bottom of this post for more details on how to win).

Yvonne Coomber’s Instagram Gathering

Pip Farm, the setting for Yvonne’s fabulous gathering.

Last week, I got the chance to meet Yvonne for the first time at a gathering she hosted near her hometown, Totnes. Yvonne brought together a group of floral loving instagrammers to celebrate her beautiful artwork in an idyllic stone farmhouse nestled deep in the Devonshire countryside. We chatted and laughed and photographed and feasted on cream teas and incredible spreads (whipped up by the fabulous Djamila Vogelsperger) for two days, and it was the most wonderful way to get to know a little more about Yvonne and her gorgeous art.

Pip Farm was filled with Yvonne’s prints, original paintings, cushions and lampshades, and jugs of flowers homegrown by the lovely Holly of Holly-Bee Flowers in Devon were placed on most available surfaces, so the farmhouse was filled with colour and life. It was hard to put my camera down!

An Artist Inspired by Flowers

I first came across Yvonne’s paintings when I stayed at the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall, which showcased an impressive display of many of Yvonne’s artworks. Yvonne’s pieces are inspired by her love for nature, flowers and colour, so they certainly speak straight to my heart, and I was absolutely thrilled when I was asked to take part in Yvonne’s Instagram retreat.

Yvonne took us around her beautiful home on the outskirts of Totnes, as well as her gallery in the town’s centre, and we also got to see her incredible studio in the heart of the countryside. It was wonderful to see Yvonne’s original canvases up close, as she uses a lot of layered paint and thick strokes, and often a shimmering of glitter, that give her fields of wildflowers an incredible depth and vivacity.

An Interview With Yvonne Coomber

Yvonne Coomber in her studio

I managed to ask Yvonne a few questions about her artwork and creative process, and I was fascinated by her answers. I have a real soft spot for poppies too, so I was delighted when Yvonne mentioned them as her favourite flower!

MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself and your background? What inspired your love for art?

YC: My childhood was steeped in the psychedelia of the sixties and seventies; both fashion and culture were colourful and experimental with an inherent wildness. I think the influences of this period mixed with my rural upbringing between a farm in Berkshire and a cottage in Cork all contributed to my profound love of the untamed rainbow hues which are currently woven into each and every piece I create.

My father had a profound love of nature and my Irish mother has always tended a magnificent country garden. So as a girl my life was frequently saturated in flowers and beautiful places. In addition I have travelled widely in my life and the warmth and discovery of all of my journeys is ever present on my canvas. My five year training in Sussex provided me with an opportunity to master my painting practice.

MN: I love your beautiful florals and seaside landscapes. What do you find particularly inspiring about nature?

VC: I think the thing I find most inspiring about nature is its ability to constantly infuse beauty, whether that be on an uncultivated meadowland fizzing with rainbows of wildflowers in summertime, or a determined solitary flower pushing through gaps in concrete pavements. Also nature is deeply humbling with both its utter powerfulness and its silent peacefulness.

I also love nature as it constantly has the ability to reflect emotional landscapes. There is an unconditional quality in the natural world that allows me to simply be.

MN: We share a mutual passion for flowers, and I’m enjoying using the hashtag you started on Instagram (#wildforflowers). Do you have any favourite flowers to paint? I notice that the flowers in your work are generally always growing wild and free.

YC: I love the innocence, colour and easy harmony of wild meadowlands. The vast selection of native British flowers simply make my heart sing….from the white frothy foam of cow parsley through to the soft powder blue of harebells and the gently nodding purple spikes of foxgloves. The hedgerows and meadows of my home in the South Hams become a perfumed feast of ever-changing loveliness.

However, if asked to choose my favourite flower it would definitely be Poppies. My daughter is named after this fragile, strong crimson bloom and their easy bright beauty is almost always present in my work.

MN: You live in a beautiful part of Devon. What do you love best about your surrounding landscape?

YC: I love contrasts that exists here: the rugged coastline, the vast open moorlands and the kaleidoscopic tumbling hedgerows all deeply nourish my soul. My favourite place of all, however, is my studio which is nestled deep in Devon’s folds. Surrounded by woodland and flower speckled fields, to me it is paradise.

A cream tea in the garden just outside Yvonne’s studio – most definitely paradise!

MN: Would you describe your creative process? How do you go from a blank canvas to a finished artwork?

YC: The process before I even pick up a brush or mix oils is crucial to me. The dreaming of the painting is as important as the mark marking. My practice is a complete love affair and I bring all of me to the canvas. I pour both real and emotional landscapes onto the linen. It is a dance between intended and accidental marks with a desire to create beauty and joy. My practice feels a sacred place and the magic unfolds as I surrender to risk and the unknown. I am fascinated and enthralled by the process.

My work takes many months to create as it is a construction of many layers. The beginning is always quite ethereal and poetic and subsequently the marks become bolder and more defined. I use many different techniques and, like the nature that I paint, there is a harmony between order and chaos.

See Yvonne’s paintings and homeware products in her online shop.

MN: You have a flourishing business. What are your top tips for artists hoping to become commercially successful, as well as creatively fulfilled?

YC: I really do believe that following your heart unwaveringly has a force and power that allows magic to emerge. Believe in your dreams, because they are the gateways to success. That and a lot (!) of hard work. For anything to flourish you simply have to put the hours in with training, practice and dedication.

MN: I so appreciate the delight in colour that shines through your paintings. How do you use colour to communicate particular moods and emotions in your work?

YC: I work incredibly instinctively. I love how colours vibrate against one another and take on another unique quality because of the relationship created between them. The oils I use are my language and I communicate intuitively.

MN: Thank you so much for giving one of my readers the chance to win one of your gorgeous new prints. Would you tell me what inspired your latest collection, and do you have a particular favourite?

YC: My new collection is inspired by a deep desire to communicate happiness. I am aware that these are challenging times, and, whilst I acknowledge this, I also very consciously wanted to create work that celebrates love. I truly believe that love has the ability to transform everything both personally and globally. It is the key. This collection is drenched in love, and I have no favourite as they are all uniquely special.

Thank you so much again to Yvonne for taking the time to answer my questions! I was also so thrilled to receive my very own print,  one out of 10 special editions she did for everyone who came to the retreat in my (very large!) goodie bag. Isn’t it stunning? I love the vibrant colours and joyful strokes (I spy lots of poppies too!), which will always remind me of Yvonne’s incredibly kind, generous spirit and my fantastic stay in Devon.

~ Yvonne Coomber IG GIVEAWAY ~

I’m so delighted that one of my readers will get a chance to win a new unframed print by Yvonne Coomber. I’m hosting the giveaway through my Instagram account, so all you have to do is pop over to Instagram and:

1// Like this picture.

2// Comment by tagging a friend you think would love Yvonne’s work too.

3// Make sure you’re following both myself (@mirandasnotebook) and Yvonne (@yvonnecoomber).

PLEASE NOTE: The giveaway is for UK residents only, and the winner will get to pick any one of the prints marked NEW on Yvonne’s website (print will be given unframed).

The giveaway will END at 10pm (UK time) on Thursday 17th May, and I’ll announce the winner on Instagram on Friday 18th May.

Good luck! I can’t wait to see who the lucky winner is and which print they’ll choose.

~

Find Yvonne on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube

Check out Yvonne’s website at www.yvonnecoomber.com 

Yvonne is taking part in the Dulwich Open Studios in London this weekend (12th-13th May) and next (19th-20th May), so if you’re in the area, do pop along!

UK Travel | Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon

Soar Mill Cove Hotel

Soar Mill Cove Hotel

Last week, I started the long weekend early as I was invited to review the stunning Soar Mill Cove Hotel, a haven of luxury nestled in the South Hams, Devon. I took Mum with me to enjoy the sea air and a relaxing escape from London. We stayed for three days, exploring the beautiful countryside around the hotel and its nearest town, Salcombe, as well as getting plenty of R&R.

I had never been to Devon’s south coast before, and I was so impressed by its beautiful, rugged landscape. Spring was a perfect time to visit, as the apple trees were still in blossom, wisteria clambered over thatched country cottages, and blue tits were busy buildings nests in the nooks and crannies of the walls outside our hotel room. We were blessed with spectacular weather, and I got to dabble my toes in the sea, even though I couldn’t quite brave the cold waves for a swim!

A Family Run Business

A complimentary cream tea is offered to guests who book direct. We enjoyed ours in the lounge, looking out to the cove.

I was impressed by Soar Mill Cove Hotel even before my arrival in Devon, as I’d received such courteous and prompt emails from the reception team, arranging the details of my stay and booking my afternoon tea and spa appointments.

This warm hospitality was a key feature in making our stay at the hotel so special, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Soar Mill Cove has been a family-run business for three generations. There is such a cosy, home-away-from-home feel to the place, and you’re made to feel welcome as soon you step across the threshold (even the friendly yellow Labrador behind the reception desk jumps up to say hello!).

Above photos: Soar Mill Cove Hotel Lounge

Although certainly luxurious, the hotel has a cosy,  unpretentious atmosphere, and it’s clearly a favourite amongst locals, as well as visitors from farther afield. Guests regularly return again and again for the tranquil, comfortable environment (one couple who was there at the same time as us apparently stay at the hotel three times a year!).

Soar Mill Cove Bolly Bar

Soar Mill Cove Hotel is both dog and child friendly, making it an ideal family destination, but it’s also a brilliant choice for a romantic escape or for some solitary relaxation. I thought it  the ideal atmosphere for a writing retreat, and once I finally get started on my novel, I would love to hole up at Soar Mill Cove for a week, writing in the mornings and heading out for refreshing walks in the afternoons. One can but dream!

Secluded Setting

Beyond the attentive service, it is of course the spectacular setting that draws so many loyal guests to Soar Mill Cove Hotel. Much of the surrounding landscape is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the stretch of coastline is renowned for its breathtaking views. The South West Coast Path is on the hotel’s doorstep, and there are many stunning walks to be had. I enjoyed clambering up the cliff path to admire the views, as well as making my way down to the cove, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, which I was often lucky enough to have to myself.

I was awed by the clear blue waters and loved watching the beautiful sailing boats that regularly glided across the horizon, their white sails standing tall and proud against the forget-me-not blue skies.

The local wildlife is spectacular too, and I got very excited when I was told that a herd of deer usually grazed on the slopes of the valley and sometimes wandered down to the beach. I looked out eagerly for any sign of deer, camera in hand, but sadly the photography Gods weren’t smiling on me to quite that extent, and I only saw sheep and cows clustered on the hills (still very picturesque!).

On one walk, though, a single deer startled me by suddenly leaping out of a bush and springing away, quick as a flash, so at least I got to glimpse one, even if I wasn’t fast enough with my camera!

Our Twin Bed Cove View Room

I was so thrilled by our room, which had a private patio and spectacular views of the cove. Mum and I loved sitting outside, or in the armchairs just inside, drinking tea, chatting and admiring the sea, which seemed constantly to change colour.

The room was spacious and exceedingly comfortable. It was useful to have a big desk to sit at, as well as the ample armchairs, and there was plenty of closet space with a large wardrobe and chest of drawers. WiFi was offered free of charge throughout the hotel, although it worked best in the lounge. It was very pleasant to disconnect and simply ‘be’ during our holiday, though!

We very much appreciated the big bathroom, too, with its spacious tub and shower. Lovely Molton Brown products were provided, and I delighted in having a piping hot bubble bath after muddy walks in the evenings!

Afternoon Tea

The hotel offers a complimentary cream tea on arrival to guests who book direct through their website, which I thought was a lovely touch, and the homemade jams are to-die-for! We bought jars of jam (as well as mini bottles of homemade gin) as gifts for friends back in London. I’m looking forward to sharing them out soon!

On our second day, we decided to try the grander afternoon tea option, and I went for the Luxury Afternoon Tea, which came with a glass of champagne, whereas Mum chose the Salcombe Tea, which had a G&T made with gin from the local Salcombe Gin Distillery. Our teas were set up on one of the tables outside, so we could admire the view as we spread our clotted cream and tucked into crab sandwiches and dainty chocolate cakes. Everything was delicious, and I don’t think I’ve ever had afternoon tea in such lovely surroundings before!

Pre-Supper Walk in the Sunset

All the delicious food meant I was keen to get some exercise, and one evening before supper I climbed the hill to admire the glorious landscape, tinged golden and pink by the setting sun. It had been a bit overcast during the day, but in the evening the clouds cleared and the sun shone, promising a fine day to come.

It was a magical evening, and I felt a million miles from the minor worries and stresses of daily life in London.

The Hotel Restaurant

Both Mum and I looked forward to our supper at the hotel’s two AA Rosette restaurant, which is run by Head Chef Ian MacDonald. The restaurant menu features local specialities, such as Start Bay scallops and hand-picked Salcombe crab, and the majority of the seafood, fish and other fresh ingredients are sourced within a 9 mile radius of the hotel.

The restaurant space is light and airy, and we were pleased to get a table right by the window looking out to the cove. Mum and I decided to start with one each of the local specialities; dressed crab for Mum and scallops with slow cooked pork belly for me!

Both appetisers were fantastic; my scallops melted in the mouth, and I had a taste of the crab cocktail too, which was superb and incredibly fresh. Apparently, Salcombe crab is a little sweeter than other crab found along the south west coast in Dorset or Cornwall, and I highly recommend trying it if you’re ever in the area!

Being so close to the sea, we both decided to take advantage of the variety of local catches, and I ordered Hake with parmesan and herb crunch, spring onion creamed potatoes, rainbow chard and white wine butter sauce. It was delicious – I loved the tasty topping on the fish, and the sauce had a wonderful flavour. Mum went for a classic bouillabaisse, which she very much enjoyed too. Everything was washed down with glasses of prosecco to start, followed by a crisp and refreshing white wine.

I knew instantly what I wanted for pudding! Audrey Hepburn was apparently a fan of the hotel when it was first established, and she very much enjoyed the original Mrs Makepeace’s berry pavlova, pronouncing it ‘simply delightful’ (you can download the pavlova recipe here). Of course, I couldn’t resist ordering the pavlova myself, and entirely agreed with Audrey’s judgement! It was the perfect choice for a warm spring evening and a lovely end to my meal.  Mum went for a lemon posset with shortbread biscuits and polished off every bite!

Breakfast in Bed

Despite all the good eating the day before, we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast the next morning. Guests may dine in the restaurant, or ask for breakfast in bed. I decided to order ours to the room, so we could enjoy a relaxed morning before heading into Salcombe. Mum and I both went for the Full Devonshire: sausages, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and eggs (scrambled for me, poached for Mum). I always think a poached egg is a good test for a restaurant, and Mum’s arrived still piping hot and perfectly cooked.

We also had some croissants, warm from the oven and beautifully buttery on the inside and flakey outside. Pots of tea, grapefruit and orange juice, and some more of that gorgeous jam and Devonshire butter completed our meal. I think it was the best breakfast I’ve ever had!

The Hotel Spa and Salt Water Pool

On our final morning at Soar Mill Cove Hotel, I’d booked a treatment at the Discovery Spa. As I felt my skin had been somewhat ravaged by the extremely cold start to spring we’d had in London, I thought a hydrating facial would be a good idea, so I’d booked the  Renewed Radiance Hydrating Mud Facial, which lasted an hour. It was utter bliss, and I felt a new woman after, with soft, glowing skin. Mum had booked a pedicure at the Spa and loved her treatment too. We both felt thoroughly pampered!

Another lovely feature of the hotel’s spa area was the saltwater pool, which is perfect for enjoying a swim when the sea is too cold.

Local Area

Salcombe, Devon

Besides enjoying the local scenery and country walks, there’s lots to do in the area surrounding the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. Later in the week, I’ll be writing up a proper post about Salcombe, a charming fishing town near the hotel, so do check back for that, but I also wanted to list a few other suggestions for outings in the area.

Overbeck’s is the former home of the scientist and inventor, Otto Overbeck, and is now a National Trust property. There are stunning subtropical gardens that offer dazzling views of the cliffs and sea.

Another National Trust Property, Coleton Fishacre, sounds lovely for those who enjoy pretty gardens and Arts & Crafts style.

The small seaside village of Hope Cove is meant to be well worth a visit for its charming setting, and The Winking Prawn is a restaurant overlooking the beach just outside of the centre of Salcombe that lots of people recommended.

~

Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon – www.soarmillcove.co.uk

Room rates at Soar Mill Cove Hotel are from £199 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast. To book, please visit www.soarmillcove.co.uk, or call 01548 561566.

Note: My stay at The Soar Mill Cove Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses ‘What She Ate’

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses 'What She Ate'

One of the non-fiction books I’ve most enjoyed lately is What She Ate by Laura Shapiro. As a journalist and culinary historian, Shapiro has long been fascinated by what a person’s appetite says about who they are.

What She Ate explores the food stories of six very different women: Dorothy Wordsworth, devoted sister to her famous brother, William; Rosa Lewis, who cooked for the most distinguished of Edwardian society; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Hitler’s consort, Eva Braun; the British author Barbara Pym and Cosmopolitan editor (and chronic dieter) Helen Gurley Brown. These women were important influencers within the realms of literature, society or politics, but little else connects them, apart from a shared seat at a table. What She Ate highlights the complex relationship women have long held towards their meals, and shows that a person’s food story is rarely straightforward.

As someone with an eager interest in the domestic minutiae of people’s lives, I found What She Ate a compelling read and was delighted when Laura Shapiro agreed to answer some questions about her book.

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses What She AteLaura Shapiro, photographed by Ellen Warner

MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself and your own food story?

LS: My mother was a wonderful cook — she taught herself to cook after she got married, and became so good at it that eventually she started catering. My own cooking is much more haphazard, but what I did inherit was a fascination with food in all forms and at all times.

My favorite food memory from childhood is waking up early, the morning after my mother had catered a party, and going downstairs to find the refrigerator full of leftovers. She loved making hors d’oeuvres, so there were always lots of those packed up and put away — “party rye” with onion, mayonnaise and parmesan, little cream puffs filled with crabmeat, sauteed mushrooms on squares of toast — all cold, of course, and all so delicious. That is still my idea of a perfect breakfast, ideally eaten standing at the open door of the refrigerator in pajamas, picking out just what I wanted from each tidy package.

MN: In your book, you say ‘food talks’ and what a person does or doesn’t eat can say so much about them. In general, though, a person’s culinary history is largely ignored by biographers, even though all other aspects of famous people’s lives are examined under a microscope. Why do you think what people are cooking and eating so often gets left out of their personal histories?

LS: Traditionally, of course, food would not have been considered a dignified subject to include in the biography of a great man — and great men were the ones people wrote biographies about. Food had to do with the body, it came from women’s world or the world of servants, and it couldn’t possibly have any significance beyond nourishment.

And the second reason, which today would now be the first reason, is that there’s so little information out there. Until Instagram and food blogs came along, most people writing about their lives — writing diaries, letters and memoirs, that is — rarely mentioned what they were eating. So even if a historian or biographer is dying to know what someone ate, it’s going to be very hard to find out.

MN: It was reading about Dorothy Wordsworth eating black pudding that first sparked your idea for ‘What She Ate.’ Would you explain why that particular meal interested you so much, and how you came to write your book?

LS: When I stumbled across the mention of black pudding in a biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew a little about her, and nothing in that picture even hinted that she would eat such a thing. Her social class, her own cooking as she described it in the Grasmere Journal, her history of colitis — black pudding for dinner would have been an affront to all of that. It was basically a sausage of blood and oatmeal, and although it had a longtime place on upper class breakfast tables, even that was starting to fade by the time this mention came along.

So I started to wonder, and I realized that if I could get a grip on this mystery, maybe I would learn something about Dorothy Wordsworth that I hadn’t known before. Maybe food would give me access to someone’s life in a new way.

MN: I loved a passage in your book when you wrote ‘our food stories…go straight to what’s neediest.’ You chose to examine women who in general had a complicated, and in some cases very insecure, relationship with food. How did you settle on which women to write about? Were you especially drawn towards food stories about women who saw food as troubling, more than delicious?

LS: So much of the food writing that’s appeared in the last ten or twenty years — popular writing, I mean, as opposed to scholarly — is about the same thing: Food is love. Food is emotional support. Food brings us together. Of course all those things are true — I’ve written them myself, many times — but I really wanted to get to something else in this book. I think all kinds of things happen at the dinner table, and plenty of them are not about food-brings-us-together. So I chose women with complicated, hard-to-decode relationships with food, women whose food stories lurked below the surface.

MN: Do you think men and women eat in a very different way? Would men’s food stories be largely different from women’s?

LS: I’m absolutely positive men’s stories would be different — but I have no evidence for it at all. I do think women have an immediate and instinctive relationship with food that comes from a billion years of physical nurturing of babies, so that’s one big difference between women and men, but I would never give myself the imaginative freedom to explore men’s food lives the way I’ve always explored women’s. For me, it would be like writing in a foreign language. There certainly are writers who can imagine other sexes — in fiction and in non-fiction — but for me it’s difficult.

MN: During the majority of the history you wrote about in ‘What She Ate’, a woman’s place was very much considered to be within the domestic sphere, and yet many of the women you wrote about wielded food as a weapon to gain power in worlds beyond their kitchen. I thought it was especially fascinating to read about Rosa Lewis’s incredible career. Would you tell me a little more about how food completely changed her life?

LS: Rosa Lewis was an amazing example of a woman who made food her career for a very specific reason that I don’t think had anything to do with food. She wanted to climb from working class to upper class, and she could see that in Victorian/Edwardian London, cooking would help her up the ladder.

What complicates the picture is that she didn’t really want to change who she was. What she wanted was to be accepted at the top of the ladder as exactly who she was — a former scullery maid named Rosa Lewis who could cook as well as Escoffier. And she succeeded, but only as long as she kept cooking. When she hung up her apron, after World War I, she lost her place on the ladder.

MN: Your book shows that there is a great deal of emotion – both positive and negative – attached to food, and yet Eleanor Roosevelt seemed most comfortable with food during her time at the White House when she could strip meal time from any emotive resonance and think of food as simply fuel for living. Why did she serve such dreadful food at the White House, and why did she seem to enjoy eating so much more later in life?

LS: Eleanor’s story is very much about her marriage to FDR. After his affair with Lucy Mercer, she was devastated, and from then on their marriage was basically a political partnership. She shared his ideals, but what she couldn’t bear was his luxury-loving side, the cocktails and fine meals and enjoyment of life that he had known while growing up and still relished when the workday was over. That was the side of FDR that gave rise to his flirtatious attentions to other women and of course the affair with Lucy Mercer. She didn’t want to feed that side of him — literally, I believe. So she made no effort to change the terrible food served by the mean-spirited housekeeper she had hired. But when she was out of the White House — travelling, or with her own friends, or pursuing her second career after FDR’s death — she was free to eat with pleasure.

MN: Two women in your book seemed to derive the most pleasure from food by simply not eating it at all. Would you tell me more about how a lack of food shaped the stories of Eva Braun and Helen Gurley Brown?

LS: These were, of course, the two dieters in the book. I hasten to add that they had nothing else in common, but they did share a fixation on staying slim. They felt very competitive with other women, and they desperately wanted to appeal to what neither of them knew yet to call the male gaze.

Helen Gurley Brown’s single-minded focus on eating as little as possible throughout life did quite a bit of damage to her readers, since she was promoting an ideal of the female body that was unnatural and essentially unattainable. Eva Braun’s effect on her moment in history was subtler but more terrible. Sitting at the table with Hitler and his entourage, she was so sweetly and stereotypically feminine that her presence created, in effect, a guilt-free zone for Hitler and his entourage.

MN: In terms of my own attitude towards food, I most identified with Barbara Pym. I liked the unpretentious, but still appreciative, approach she took towards food, both in her books and in real life. Would you tell me more about how the food she wrote about reflected the world around her?

LS: Barbara Pym had a wonderfully healthy relationship with food — she just loved it, and it caused her no problems whatever as far as I can see. When it was delicious, she enjoyed eating it, and when it was awful, she enjoyed thinking about it. When she started on her life as a novelist after World War II, a whole spectrum of food was spread out in front of her — tinned soups and flabby blancmange, and perfectly roasted duck with peas from the garden.

All of it went into the books, which is why it’s possible to read her novels as a revisionist history of British cooking after the war. Pym was no fantasy-writer: her novels emerged from the world around her, and if she saw plenty of good food along with the stereotypically awful food of that time, I think we can believe her.

MN: Finally, Laura, what’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on that you’re able to share at the moment?

LS: I wish I knew! I’m in that nerve-wracking state of testing new ideas, discarding and revising and fiddling and re-discarding and re-revising.

MN: If people would like to keep up with your news, where can they find you online?

LS: My website is laurashapirowriter.com.

~

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro is available on Amazon and all good booksellers.

Find me on instagram: @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

P.S. You may also be interested in my interview with Annie Gray on Queen Victoria’s life in food on Tea & Tattle Podcast. 

London Culture | From Omega to Charleston Exhibition

London Culture | From Omega to Charleston Exhibition

Last weekend, I strolled through the pretty streets of Holland Park (mercifully quiet for a sunny Saturday) to the Piano Nobile Gallery to see their exhibition, From Omega to Charleston. The exhibition explores the creative partnership between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and shows some of the artwork they created from the years 1910-1934.

Vanessa Bell, sister to Virginia Woolf, was a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group and a talented artist. The painter Duncan Grant was an important influence on her life and work, and they eventually lived together at Charleston, Vanessa’s home in East Sussex.

The Piano Nobile Gallery exhibition has brought together rarely seen works by Grant and Bell held in private collections, some pieces on loan from Charleston and a few items for sale (prices on request). The exhibition ends on Saturday, so I thought I’d share some highlights for those who won’t be able to make it (although if you are in the area, I highly encourage you to go!).

The gem of the show is the incredible display of the Famous Women Dinner Service that Bell and Grant produced in the early 1930s.

A whole wall in the gallery is hung with the 50 plates, depicting  famous women through the ages, such as Queen Victoria, Anna Pavlova, Greta Garbo and Jane Austen. Half of the plates were painted by Bell and half by Grant on Wedgwood creamware blanks.

Here are a few of my favourites:

 From Omega to Charleston

Aren’t they beautiful? The Famous Women Dinner Service was a joint project for Grant  and Bell, which they began in 1932, commissioned by the  director of the National Gallery, Kenneth Clark. When Clark died, his widow Nolwen de Janzé-Rice took the plates to France. After her death, the collection was sold at auction in Germany, and its whereabouts  remained unknown for years, until the plates were purchased by a private collector and returned to Britain. Now, the plates are available through Piano Nobile and are being publicly shown for the first time.

The collection is priced at a whopping £1million, but there is hope that Charleston will be able to acquire them, as the plates are being held on reserve to give Charleston a chance to raise funds. I do very much hope they will end up somewhere that the public will be able to view them.

Last weekend, I strolled through the pretty streets of Holland Park (mercifully quiet for a sunny Saturday) to the Piano Nobile Gallery to see their exhibition, From Omega to Charleston.

There were also several beautiful paintings by Bell and Grant on display, as well as different ceramics, painted furniture and an embroidered footstool.

I was delighted to get the chance to see this small, but fascinating exhibition, and now I want to plan another trip to Charleston!

~

Get in touch on instagram: @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

Carbis Bay Hotel: A Literary Heritage

I’m so pleased to bring you my final hotel review from my holiday in Cornwall. The Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate was the last we stayed in whilst at St Ives, and our stay was a delight from start to finish. The larger and grander sister hotel to The Gannet Inn, Carbis Bay is about a 25 minute walk (or 5 minute train journey) to St Ives, and its stunning setting just above the smooth yellow sands of the beach (which is owned by the hotel) is a huge attraction.

I’d been so excited to stay at Carbis Bay, not least because of its impressive literary connections. First built in 1894, The Carbis Bay Hotel has hosted a number of famous guests over the years. Virginia Woolf knew the area well, as her childhood summers were spent at Talland House in St Ives, and she stayed at the hotel in 1914 on a return visit to Cornwall.  From its rooms, there are fantastic views of the nearby Godrevy Lighthouse that inspired Woolf’s famous novel, To the Lighthouse.

As a huge Rosamunde Pilcher fan (I brought Coming Home with me to read on this trip, as I’d read The Shell Seekers on a previous holiday in Penzance), I was also thrilled to discover that Pilcher features The Carbis Bay Hotel (renamed as The Sands Hotel) in The Shell Seekers. It is the hotel that Penelope enjoys when she returns to Cornwall after so many years away and splashes out on a luxurious holiday, relishing the hotel’s ‘thick carpets, swimming pools, Jacuzzis…huge bowls of fresh fruit, and flowers everywhere.’ Judging from my experience many years on, the hotel is still the epitome of comfort and style.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, CornwallUK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

On reading more about Rosamunde Pilcher’s life, I was also delighted to discover a reference to The Carbis Bay Hotel when she wrote about celebrating her golden wedding anniversary in Christmas with Rosamunde Pilcher.  Apparently the party took place the day before Christmas Eve, when the hotel was closed for the season, but opened specially to host Rosamunde and her family and friends. She describes the scene thus: ‘we found the hotel en fête: champagne corks popping, a jazz band playing music from our time, long tables set, flowers and Christmas lights, and the gleam of silver and glass.’

Walking through the hotel’s large entrance way and taking in the grand dining rooms and beautiful conservatory,  I could picture Rosamunde as an elegant hostess, mingling with her guests and sipping cocktails to the tune of the jazz band and the sea lapping gently on the shore.

A Tour of Our Room

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful deluxe room with a large double bed and French windows that opened directly onto a private terrace overlooking the sea. Spacious and attractive, we found the room exceedingly comfortable and were appreciative of its ample closet space, comfortable chairs and wide desk.

The enormous bathroom was another highlight, with a separate shower and large tub that was perfect for a long, hot soak.

Our Private Terrace

A real highlight of our room was having access to a private terrace. I enjoyed taking my early morning cup of tea outside and watching the sun rise over Godrevy Lighthouse, discernible in the distance. The mornings dawned so warm and sunny for most of our holiday that it was easy to imagine it was still summer, and I’ve rarely felt quite so serene as when I drank my tea and listened to the rustle of palm trees waving gently in the breeze.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, CornwallUK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

I’ll never forget watching the dawning sun turn the sky pink and violet above Woolf’s famous lighthouse.

The C Bay Spa

We’d arrived at the hotel just in time for our appointments at their lovely spa, which we’d already heard about at The Gannet Inn, as guests of both hotels are allowed to use it. The spa offers a wide range of treatments, and I’d booked a manicure for myself and a pedicure for mum. I went for my signature colour – a pale pink, and Mum chose a deep plum nail polish. It was lovely to be pampered in such a pretty, calming environment, and we both agreed that this was living the life!

Later in the evening, I decided to try out the hotel’s swimming pool and hot tub before we had supper, so changed into my swimsuit, wrapped one of the fluffy white bathrobes provided around me, and slipped through our little private gate onto the path which led from our room to the C Bay Spa.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

I had the pool and hot tub to myself for a blissful ten minutes before a couple of other  hotel guests appeared. The hot tub, I have to admit, I especially enjoyed, and it was marvellous to sit in the warm water and admire the view across the pool and out to sea as the sun sunk lower and lower in the sky.

The Hotel Restaurant

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

My swim had given me an appetite for dinner, so after freshening up in our room and pulling on a dress, Mum and I headed to the restaurant for our meal. As there was a wedding being hosted during the night of our stay, the hotel’s main dining area, the award winning Sands Restaurant, was reserved for the wedding party, so our table was set up – along with a few other guests – in a smaller, but very beautiful room.

As I sat down, I admired the striking art pieces hung on the walls, as well as the heavy curtains and marble mantelpiece that gave the room a touch of opulence. Mum and I had a bottle of house white wine to share between us, and we raised our glasses, toasting our fantastic holiday.

We enjoyed an amuse-bouche of bread and pate as we decided our menu choices. Sands Restaurant prides itself on showcasing local, seasonal ingredients, with an emphasis on fish and seafood.  Both Mum and I settled on seared South Coast scallops and cauliflower, followed by sea bass and tagliatelle.

Our dishes were exceptionally well done – I don’t think there’s anything tastier than soft-as-butter scallops, and I loved the combination of flavours and seasonal root vegetables in our main dish.

For dessert, I settled on mulled wine panna cotta with  balsamic strawberries and poached pear, and Mum tucked into a deconstructed trifle (which even had a shot of sherry alongside!).

Our sweets were the perfect end to a fantastic meal and a wonderful day.

Breakfast And Coastal Walk to St Ives

I was very keen to do the cliff walk from Carbis Bay to St Ives, especially as we awoke to such a spectacular, summer-blue day. After enjoying a tremendous breakfast at the hotel, with their impressive selection of pastries, cold cuts, cheeses, yoghurt, breads, as well as hot dishes, we made our way along the ‘coastal walk’ path that started just outside the hotel’s large balcony.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

As we climbed higher and higher up the cliff path, the sea shimmered blue and turquoise beneath us, and the salty smell of the seaweed collected in black clumps on the rocks sharpened the morning breeze.

The path was narrow in places, clinging to the edge of the cliff, so I could see fungi growing in the cracks by my head  as I walked along, and blackberries dangled, juicy and fat, reminding me that, despite the soaring temperatures, we were indeed in autumn. As we walked on further, the path widened, and we could admire large houses perched on either side of us, their gardens filled with palm trees and fuchsias drinking in the sunlight.

As the path started to descend, I caught my first glimpse of St Ives, with the town’s pretty grey stone cottages dotting the horizon before me. The walk had only taken about half an hour, with plenty of pauses as I snapped away with my camera, and was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I highly recommend doing it yourself if you’re ever in the Carbis Bay / St Ives area – the gorgeous views shouldn’t be missed!

Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall – www.carbisbayhotel.co.uk

Room rates at Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate are from £270 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.carbisbayhotel.co.uk, or call 01736 795 311.

Note: My stay at The Carbis Bay Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

The Best of London Set Menus | Sardine, Hoxton

Sardine Hoxton | London RestaurantsPart of a series in which I bring you the best set menus on offer in London.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an event at Daunt Books, with Signe Johansen in conversation with Diana Henry about the latter’s just-released cookbook, How to Eat a Peach. Diana’s new book is based on her love for menus; not fancy, slaving for hours in the kitchen affairs, but simple dishes thoughtfully put together to create unforgettable gatherings around a table. It’s just the sort of cookbook I most enjoy: chatty, imbued with a strong love for culture, travel and literature (all of which influence Diana’s menus), and with recipes that inspire, rather than intimidate.

I also share a passion for a truly great menu, and not only for those served by the home cook, but also when dining out. I mean in particular the set menu. Set menus have so often enabled me to try the very best of local cuisine when traveling, and – always friendly to a limited budget – have been my ticket into many of London’s pricier foodie destinations. I love the element of surprise in a set menu, which are changed daily in the best places. The lack of a great deal of choice never bothers me: I like the fact that a limited range generally pushes me to try something new.

Before attending the How to Eat a Peach Event, I’d enjoyed just such a brilliant set menu at Sardine in Hoxton (there was a wonderful moment of serendipity during Diana’s talk when she mentioned Sardine as one of her favourite restaurants in London!). It was a particularly wet day, and, as the strong gusts of wind tried to tug the umbrella from my hand while I walked the 15 minute stretch from Old Street Underground Station, the thought of Sardine’s southern French dishes spurred me to hurry even more.

Sardine didn’t appear particularly prepossessing from the outside. Ironically, it looks directly onto a large McDonald’s, and road works have currently dug up the street in front of the restaurant, so it’s caged in by cones and trucks. As I neared the door, though, a delicious smell filled the sidewalk, which promised plenty of gastronomical delights in store. I met my friend, and we walked in and were shown to our table. 

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Being in a celebratory mood, we ordered two Lillet Spritzers and chinked our glasses, before turning our attention to the menu. Sardine’s set menu is available Monday-Friday 12-3pm and 6pm-7pm. It’s terrific value with two courses £16 and three £20, and I was told by the attentive waitress that they update it regularly, depending on the season and what looks particularly good in the markets. The food is unpretentious, relying on the best quality ingredients to make each dish shine, and is inspired by the South of France.

Our starters arrived quickly: radicchio, radishes, creme fraiche and herbs for me, and purple sprouting broccoli with anchoïade (a classic Provençal dip, made with anchovies, good olive oil, white wine vinegar and garlic) for my friend.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Every bite of my dish was a tribute to the fresh vitality of spring. The bitterness of the radicchio balanced well against the peppery sweetness of the raw radishes, and the perfectly seasoned creme fraiche provided just the right touch of richness. I didn’t taste the broccoli, but was assured it was exceptionally tasty.

Uncharacteristically, I’d gone for the vegetarian option when choosing my main course: artichoke, spinach, white beans and aioli. It wasn’t a choice I regretted, though! I was amazed by the robustness of flavour from such a simple dish, and it was a real treat to have artichoke. I had a nibble of my friend’s choice too – simply described as ‘braised lamb and lentils’ on the menu, but we both agreed it was one of the tastiest lamb dishes we’ve ever been served.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Although the dessert choice for the set menu was tempting (poached pears and nougat parfait), I couldn’t resist suggesting we go off piste when I saw tarte tatin on the à la carte. I always find tarte tatin is a good test of a restaurant, and to my mind it’s one of those desserts that’s classic for a reason: when done well, it’s perfection.

I took advantage of the fifteen minute wait to prepare our tarte to observe my surroundings a little more closely. I liked Sardine’s communal, comfortable feel, with its open plan kitchen, showing off stacks of glazed clay bowls and gleaming pots and pans. There’s a long communal table that stretches the length of the dining area, with other tables clustered around the walls. The sandy tones of the decor, offset by grey and mixed with pops of orange and blue and darker browns, reminded me of the café au lait coloured buildings and brightly painted shutters that I’d seen in the towns I’d explored on my last visit to Provence.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Our tarte tatin arrived on the table, ice-cream and caramel oozing into the cracks of the pastry and pooling on to the plate as we cut into it, slicing it up and helping ourselves to quarters. Is there anything that beats an exceptional tarte tatin shared with a friend on a cold, wet day? To my mind, it’s hard to better the combination of caramelised apple, hot pastry and vanilla ice-cream.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Finishing our meal with chamomile tea and coffee, we chatted into the late afternoon, and then made our way back to the tube, where even severe delays on the Metropolitan line couldn’t upset my contented spirit.

T&T 60 | Discussing Gretchen Rubin’s Personality Quiz

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week, I’m so delighted to say that my co-host, Sophie, is back on Tea & Tattle, after having some time away following a sad bereavement. Today on the podcast, we catch up with each other, swap our theme words for 2018 and discuss Gretchen Rubin’s fascinating book, The Four Tendencies.

Gretchen Rubin hosts one of my favourite podcasts, Happier, and she’s written several bestselling books on human nature, happiness and habits. The Four Tendencies is Gretchen’s most recent book, and in it she describes the framework she developed to help people better understand themselves in order to achieve their goals. Whether you’re an Obliger, Rebel, Questioner or Upholder is determined by how you respond to both internal and external expectations. I found The Four Tendenciesan illuminating read that helped pin-point my own strengths and weaknesses, and it was so fun to chat about it with Sophie and find out her tendency.

ALSO: I make a special announcement in this episode, concerning a change to Tea & Tattle Podcast (it’s a good one!), so do listen to the end to find out what I’m launching on Friday.

Listen to learn more about The Four Tendencies and which tendency we identify with the most.

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

I’m so pleased finally to be sharing the rest of my trip to Cornwall back in October. Life got so crazy in the late autumn, that I wasn’t able to write about my St Ives experience, which was a shame as I had such a fun time and thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to that part of Cornwall.

I’ll be publishing posts about exploring St Ives, particularly our visits to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and Leach Pottery, but for today I’ll start at the beginning with our arrival at The Gannet Inn, a charming boutique hotel in Carbis Bay, just a few minutes from St Ives. We’d hired a taxi from the Bedruthan Hotel in Newquay, and the drive to Carbis Bay took about an hour, which I didn’t mind a bit, as there was such attractive scenery to admire along the way.

I must say, that if you’re planning a visit to St Ives, then I very much recommend staying in Carbis Bay, rather than St Ives itself. Although there was much I appreciated about St Ives, I found its extremely touristy town centre rather disappointing. Many of the streets were lined with charming cottages, but the impression was rather spoilt by the placards on every door with engraved website links to book a stay. I started to wonder if anyone actually lived in St Ives! Even though it was off-season, the town was crowded, and it was a relief to get back to the tranquility and beauty of Carbis Bay. The Gannet Inn was very close to the sweet little train station, where it was easy to catch the train to St Ives – only a 3 minute trip, but one of the most beautiful train journeys I’ve taken, as the tracks hug the cliffs, and you get the most beautiful views of the coast and St Ives as you chug into the station.

The Gannet Inn

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

The Gannet Inn is sister hotel to the larger and grander Carbis Bay Hotel, in which we also stayed (I’ll be writing about that soon too). Although not situated directly on the bay, The Gannet still offered lovely seaside views, and the gorgeous, quiet little beach was only a short walk away. I liked the cosy, comfy rooms, which were decorated in the style of a country home, which instantly made me feel welcome.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the very friendly and helpful receptionist, who had our bags whisked to our room and provided us with very useful information about train times to St Ives, as well as a map to the area and tips about what to see and do.

Sea View Room

Before having lunch, we went up to our room (called The Oyster Catcher) to unpack, re-apply lipstick and brush our hair. Our double-bed room was on the top floor, accessed by a winding stair case, and I was charmed by the attractive furniture, neutral decor and view of the sea over the rooftops (where a glimpse of the lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf’s famous novel, To The Lighthouse, was clearly visible).

The freshly baked biscuits were a nice touch alongside the plentiful supply of tea, coffee and water, and both Mum and I were thrilled by the large bathroom, with a big bath and shower.

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

The room was pristine and very comfortable, and I especially appreciated the large cupboard space, equipped with iron and ironing-board so I could press a few of my dresses before hanging them up.

Scallops for Lunch

By this time, we were feeling distinctly peckish, so decided to have lunch in the hotel restaurant before heading into St Ives for an afternoon of exploring.

The food at the Gannet Inn was really outstanding – some of the best from the entire trip. Our lunch of plump, fresh scallops, toast and avocado salad and cool, crisp wine was perfection. Feeling ready for adventure after our meal, we set off to catch the train for St Ives.

St Ives

Despite its high tourist foot fall, St Ives manages to retain a great deal of character and appeal. We happily wandered along the narrow, twisting lanes, flagged by brightly coloured doorways and attractive shops.

I, of course, nosed out the local bookshop in record time and couldn’t resist choosing a couple from its well curated selection: The Illustrated Letters of Virginia Woolf and Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell: a Childhood in St Ives. I was eager to learn more of the famous sisters’ connection to Cornwall, and I even managed to find the house they lived in as children when they visited St Ives for summer holidays.

I also did a bit of shopping for family and friends, picking up postcards and tea-towels from Poppy Treffry, as well as magazines in the beautiful fashion and homeware shop, Academy & Co.

The Best Apple Pie I’ve Ever Had

After our afternoon in St Ives, we returned to The Gannet Inn in time for supper. Heading down to the large, attractive restaurant, we were ushered to a table and given menus. All the walking had rekindled our appetities, so we decided to share a bottle of the house red wine, with a baked camembert cheese and toast as a starter, and roasted venison Wellington for our mains.

There are few delights as simple, but as tasty as baked cheese. The camembert was studded with garlic cloves and rosemary and tasted heavenly spread over our toast. I’ve since replicated this easy starter several times at home – it’s a Friday night fail-safe!

Our main dish was delicious as well, and an excellent twist on the usual Beef Wellington. The venison was very well cooked – perfectly pink in the middle – and served in a tasty jus with mushrooms and broccoli.

Finally, dessert: we’d both chosen apple pie with custard and calvados. Oh my! It was amazing. I’ve had plenty of good apple pie in my time, but none as magnificent as this. It was a real English – rather than American – pie, without any cinnamon, but the pastry was crisp and light, the apples perfectly sweet, and the combination of custard and apple liqueur absolutely inspired. I have yet to attempt my own version of this dessert, but I definitely want to soon!

Breakfast

You’d think after that supper, we’d barely manage more than a sip of tea the next morning, but the early morning spread was so tempting when we went downstairs after a good night’s sleep, that somehow I found myself managing a plateful of pancakes, and Mum went for a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel.

As we’d come to expect from the food at The Gannet Inn, everything was delicious and set us up very well for another day spent exploring and enjoying beachside walks. I look forward to sharing the rest of my St Ives recommendations very soon!

The Gannet Inn, Cornwall – www.gannetstives.co.uk

Room rates at The Gannet Inn are from £160 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.gannetstives.co.uk, email info@thegannetinn.co.uk, or call 01736 795 651.

Note: My stay at The Gannet Inn was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.