Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Seafood at the Almyra Hotel in Cyprus

Infinity pool at AlmyraSpa

In pursuit of some winter sun at the end of our UK winter we ended up in Cyprus at the Almyra Hotel in Paphos.  This was our first visit to Cyprus but it ticked all the boxes having temperatures around 20C and less than 5 hours flying with Easyjet and a small time difference (+2 hours).  The Almyra Hotel offered good facilities including a well appointed spa, gymnasium, pools and sporting facilities all situated next to the Mediterranean Sea.  The cuisine on offer was promising with several restaurants available at this hotel and the neighbouring sister Hotel Annabelle.

Fishing Boats in Pafos

Cyprus is situated in the eastern end of the Mediterranean where the water is not particularly rich in nutrients and so the fish stocks are not highly abundant.  However local fishing boats, like those based in Paphos, do bring a regular supply of local produce including Picarel (a type of whitebait), Dorado, Mullet, Cuttlefish, Squid, Tuna and Swordfish.  Farmed fish in Cyprus include Gilthead Bream and Seabass. The inshore fishing is carried out from small wooden boats using long lines or nets.

Char-grilled Fresh

Local fresh squid (Calamari) is abundant and makes for a tasty dish.  This whole squid was scored and grilled over barbecue coals at the poolside restaurant, Notios. Beautifully prepared with local olive oil and lemon juice it was tender and juicy.  It is important to 'score' the flesh of a squid before cooking as it helps to tenderise the squid-meat during cooking.  Other notable dishes at Notios included Seared Salmon and Seafood and SeaweedSalad.

Sushi by the Sea
Seafood & Seaweed Salad
The Almyra also specialises in Japanese cuisine and offer a range of dishes to order from the menu or even especially prepared after discussions with the chef.  These plates of Sushi and Sashimi were expertly crafted from the freshest ingredients.  The dishes included Salmon and Tuna Maki rolls, Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi, Seabass and Squid Nigiri.  Accompanied by a highly palatable Sauvignon Blanc from the Tsiakkas Winery, this made for an very pleasant lunch.

Jumbo Prawn with Rice

A lunchtime alternative was the Ouzeri restaurant which has a rustic appeal and is situated at the edge of the sea. Fresh fish was always available. One of the most popular dishes was the charcoal grilled Jumbo Prawns with rice - absolutely delicious ! Again a good choice of cocktails and wines (local and international) were on offer but we opted for the Tsiakkas Merlot which again was extremely good.


Mosaics, Almyra’s main restaurant, caters for all tastes with modern Mediterranean and International buffets.  Much to our (pleasant) surprise the evening meal in this restaurant was complimentary and the quality of the food and wine was very good indeed. From a simple salad to swordfish kebabs, a wide range of wines and good service made this a regular favourite.  The Almyra'a adjacent 'sister' hotel, The Annabelle, offered the same deal also with themed nights which included 'Mediterranean', Italian and Oriental cuisine. The image shows Chef Gary, at the Annabelle, preparing a Paella to order, overseen by Executive Chef, Alexandre Geffroy.

Flame seared Sashimi Salmon
Miso glazed Black Cod
 There were fine dining options at the Almyra which more than met the mark.  'Flavours' is an elegant restaurant situated around the fireplace at the far end of the foyer bar.  Offering a combination of Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine the menu was varied and interesting.  The Flame-seared Sashimi Salmon with Italian white truffle oil and Gremolata was delicate and the Miso Glazed Black Cod with pickled vegetables and Yuzu Miso dressing (made with a Japanese citrus fruit) was flavoursome. Flavours also offered an impressive selection of international fine wines to complement the excellent food.
Pan fried Sea Bream

Sauteed Prawn
More formal fine dining was provided at Amorosa in the Annabelle Hotel next door. It is a sophisticated restaurant which specialises in contemporary French cuisine. I opted for the four course set menu which at €28 was a bargain but was even more amazed when I learned that our meal plan reduced this to a ridiculous €15.  For food of this quality I would expect to pay four or five times that amount.  My choices included Sauteed Prawn with Green Beans, Potatoes, Black Olives and Lemon Butter Sauce followed by Cauliflower Soup with Olive Tapenade Crostini. For main course it was Pan Fried Sea Bream with Spinach Mash, Ratatouille and Champagne Sauce. Then to finish, Dark Chocolate and Orange Crepes with Orange Zest Confit and Pear Sorbet.  All prepared to perfection with fresh ingredients and served expertly with fine wines on offer.

In summary, I would highly recommend the quality of the seafood at these 2 Thanos hotels. I am told that a third hotel in the group, Anassa, is also good so here's to my next visit ! 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sydney Fish Market

If you are in Australia and love seafood then the Sydney Fish Market is a 'must-visit' venue which provides a feast for your eyes and for your stomach ! Here is a pictorial record from my recent visit ….
Mud Crab
Rock Lobster
King Crab

Spanner Crab
Blue Swimmer Crab
Razor Clams

King Salmon
Stone Crab

Seafood Mix
Eagle Ray Wings
Sushi Bar
Grilled Barramundi

Slurping Oysters
Sydney Fish Market
Seafood Platters

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Garfish Restaurant - Manly Harbour, Sydney, Australia

Manly Beach
Described as Sydney's favourite beachside mecca, who could fail to love the swathes of golden sandy beach and the sparkling turquoise sea. We were lucky enough to visit this area over Christmas when visiting our daughter and her partner.  They have been living in Sydney for over 2 years now and are totally enraptured by this beautiful city and all that his has to offer. On a clear and sunny hot day in mid-December we were guided by Louise and Dean on an 8Km walk from Spit Bridge to Manly Harbour.  This well maintained coastal path follows the contours of North Harbour and offers magnificent views of the coastline, wooded areas and elegant properties. Manly Harbour is a tranquil wharf location with views towards Sydney Harbour but just a few minutes walk through the bustling promenade brings you to Manly Beach with its ocean surf.

For lunch we had booked to eat at Garfish, an award winning restaurant on the East Esplanade. This restaurant is all about fresh fish and first impressions were good with the light airy space, modern furnishings and friendly staff.  The restaurant was packed with a mix of tourists, locals and business people all there with one thing in mind - great seafood.  The menu was presented on a simple brown paper format (bit like a paper bag with writing on) and presented a problem - how could we choose when everything looked amazing?

King Prawn & Avocado
Snapper Pie
Sydney Rock Oysters
Our helpful waitress was well informed and offered plenty of sound advice to help with our choices.  The menu items were carefully presented to offer something for everyone.  For instance, oysters could be 'natural', 'crisp fried with ginger and mirin', 'as a shot with Bloody Mary, 'wood roasted with bacon and Worcestershire sauce' or a mixed plate of them all.  Always the oyster purist, I opted for the 'natural' which were delicious.  They were Sydney Rock Oysters from the central coast area of Lemon Tree Passage and they were creamy with a mild mineral finish.  Absolute heaven with  a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Other shellfish on offer included Moreton Bay Bugs (a speciality of the restaurant), Live Rock Lobster and New Zealand Scampi.  Mains ranged from Crisp Fried Whole Baby Barramundi to King Prawn with Avocado.  I opted for the Snapper Pie.  Combining the Australian penchant for good pies and, in my opinion, one of the best white fish, there were large pieces of Snapper in a creamy Soubise  sauce (Bechamel with onion puree) topped with a light flaky pastry. Wholesome and delicious ! 

Following our meal we enjoyed what is generally known as the 'best commute in the world' by catching the ferry from Manly Harbour to Sydney Harbour, a picturesque journey of about 1/2 hour in the warm afternoon sunshine.  Now I am back in London I think I may be working in the wrong place !

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Masterchef Popup Restaurant, London

Many of us probably have a restaurant where we know the chef well enough at least to exchange greetings and comment on the food.  But how about going to a smart restaurant in central London for the first time and feeling that you know so much about the chefs and their lives that they feel like part of your family.  Such is the power of television.  Masterchef exposes every facet of the contestants character as they prepare dishes, under pressure, for close scrutiny not only by the judges, Greg Wallace (@greggawallace ) and John Torode (@johntorode1), but also by viewers, many of whom will voice their opinion via social media.  So, arriving at the Blue Fin Building in London for lunch last Sunday at the Masterchef Restaurant, everyone must have felt that they already knew the chefs. This was enhanced by their presence in the dining room where they enthusiastically shared views and ideas with the diners. One big happy family !

The Masterchef Restaurant is a 'popup' which brings together champions and finalists from the past 10 years to create bespoke menus for a five week period.  We booked for lunch on the first Sunday ( 7th Sept) and our chefs were the 2014 winner Ping Coombes ( @wanpingcoombes ) and finalists Jack Lucas ( @jacklucas1) and Luke Owen ( @master chef_luke ).  The popup is located on the South Bank in the Blue Fin Building, so called because it is covered in 2,000 blue aluminium fins, each with a metallic finish that changes the building’s appearance from different positions. 

On arrival we were directed to the 11th floor roof terrace to enjoy a glass of champagne and to take in the stunning view of the Thames and London skyline which includes iconic buildings such as St. Pauls, The Shard and The Gherkin. The restaurant on the 10th floor was very contemporary with clean lines and lots of glass which allowed us to enjoy the views throughout the meal. The menu comprised 3 courses with a choice of two items per course each of which was attributed to the chef.  We opted for one of each so we could taste them all and we were not disappointed. Not all were seafood of course but they are each worth a mention. 

For starters, I had the Shellfish Arancini with prawn cocktail garnish which was the only dish designed by Luke. The crusted ball of risotto rice was packed with flavour and garnished with prawns and cocktail sauce.  I admit I had slight worries by the thought of the seventies-style sauce but Luke had given it a spicy lift with chilli which worked perfectly.  He explained to me later that the intensity of flavour in the rice resulted from the shellfish stock which he had prepared from prawn shells, celery, sherry and wine. The other starter was the Pork Sandwich designed by Ping. This was braised pork belly in a bao with crackling and sesame salad. The light steamed bun combined perfectly with the succulent meat and oriental sauce.  

For main the Prawn Laksa was also one of Ping's creations. Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup which is combination of Chinese and Malay cuisine. The aromatic, spicy broth was prepared with lemongrass, galangal (a root from the ginger family), coconut and shrimps.  This was served with soft noodles, tiger prawns and garnish. A perfect combination and with Ping's 'special spices' the dish was light, flavoursome and satisfying. 

The main course designed by Jack was Cannon of Lamb with a breaded shoulder croquette, pea and mint puree, mashed potatoes, anchovy vinaigrette and redcurrant sauce.  The melt-in-your-mouth lamb was flavoursome and cooked to perfection with smooth creamy mash and intense pea puree…..delicious…... and that is from a seafood fanatic !

Ping's Pudding was Coconut and Pandan Panna Cotta  with chargrilled pineapple, compressed mango, lime and lemongrass granite. Great depth of flavour here from the fruit together with delicate panna cotta reminded us of Ping's skill in creating successful combinations with all types of food.

 Jack's pudding was Indulgent Chocolate Tart with orange yoghurt ice-cream, candied orange and popping candy crumb with an indulgent addition of edible gold leaf. All presented on the almost obligatory 'buttery biscuit base'. 

All in all this was a great event with good service and excellent food.  The atmosphere was convivial with no rush or panic (at least not at front of house) and we could take our time to enjoy it all.  All three chefs took the time to engage with the diners in a very relaxed and friendly way despite the fact that they had just prepared lunch for 150  having already prepared brunch earlier and had dinner to come.  So 'hats off' to the chefs but also to the organisers and support staff who created a very pleasant experience which in no way felt contrived. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Galleria Restaurant in Rome

On a recent 5-day visit to Rome we sampled the cuisine of a range of restaurants. The best by far was Galleria which is situated in a small but stylish shopping gallery on Via dei Sabini.

Galleria Restaurant in Rome
Its elegant interior with clean lines has a contemporary feel even though the restaurant has been in operation for over 6 years.  When we had lunch here, the restaurant was fairly busy with well dressed business people and savvy tourists.  At dinner the restaurant was quieter, not least because the shopping gallery was closed and the only access was from a side-street.  I am sure that outside the holiday period the restaurant is full of local people who are 'in-the-know' and return time and time again for the high quality food and service.

Great service from the pleasant staff and extra attention from the owner, Guido Anastasio Pugliese, enhanced the dining experience.  Guido took the time to come over and explain in detail some of the excellent wine choices and to offer samples of a delicious olive oil from L'Aquila in Abruzzo.

On arrival we were greeted with a complimentary glass of Prosecco before proceeding to the Chef's Amuse Bouche of Roman Sweet Pepper.

Raw fresh fish and Shellfish
For starters we shared the Grande Crudo di Pesce e Crostacei which comprised a range of raw fish and shellfish including Amberjack Carpaccio (from Sicily), Scampi (Adriatic), Red Prawns (Sicily), Salmon (Scotland) and a large Rock Oyster (France).  All beautifully fresh and garnished with redcurrants, blackberry and a homemade Tomato Sorbet, it was a delight on the eye and 100% pleasure on the palate !  

Farfalle with Prawns
Red Prawns on a stick

To follow we had Farfalle pasta with grilled red prawns, pea puree and Tuna Borttaga (salted roe).  Also, grilled Red Prawns on a skewer with sliced radish and a balsamic and orange reduction.  Both dishes were superb.

The cuisine is elegant and refined but not in any way pretentious. All the food is prepared with care using the finest fresh ingredients.  

Eating at the Gallery has a sense of style and occasion, which is reflected in the tremendous quality of the food and service.  All of this comes at a very affordable price and it will definitely be on the top of our restaurant list next time we are in Rome.