Tag Archives: Breakfast

Ben’s Canteen, Battersea

You know those cheesy movies where the hapless romantic lead searches high and low for their soulmate, only to realise that true love was under their nose the whole time?

The foodie equivalent happened to me recently.

Ben’s Canteen in Battersea is like the Hollywood stock character of the overlooked, reliable buddy who turns out to be full of surprises.

I live just around the corner yet until the other day, I hadn’t been.

Since my “discovery” I’ve been doing my best to make up for lost time with multiple visits, dragging friends to sample the all-day venue’s brunch, dinner and cocktail offerings.

Good morning to you, “eggs pig out”, eggs benedict with pulled pork – sexy!

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Some home made hash browns, ordered for the table but I admit to taking the lion’s share…

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Washed down with a “Banging Bloody Mary” (love the fact that Ben’s Canteen refer to a booze free version as “Pointless Mary”

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Dinner time. Scotch eggs with a gooey yolk, well seasoned flavour and crisp exterior – practically perfect.

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Award winning “The BC burger”. Beef patty topped with salt beef and smoked cheddar. Beefy!

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Sides: coleslaw and deep fried pickles (aka “frickles”, aka my new favourite word)

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Ben’s Canteen loves a promo and I felt like an “extreme couponer” taking advantage of the 2-4-1 cocktails on Tuesday nights, happy hour between 5-7pm AND instagramming for a free affogato – all at the same time.

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Sure, I may be in the heady honeymoon period after discovering a new love but honestly, I think Ben’s Canteen is a keeper.

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A brief stopover in Sydney

Sydney gets around 340 sunny days a year. Typically, we arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour; our first night in the city saw us sprinting to the restaurant nearest to our hostel and then begging to be seated next to the heater so we could dry out our soaking clothes.

The following morning most of the puddles had dried out and we were able to see Sydney in all its glory.

Obviously the first place we headed to was the harbour, to get the obligatory snaps of the Opera house and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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We also took a walk around the city centre, pointing out some quintessential Aussie symbols like this kangaroo and emu statue.

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Our wanderings took us through the lush Botanic Gardens: one of the best city parks I have ever seen.

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Another lovely walk was around the coast from Bondi Beach to Coogee.

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Now we are nearing the end of our travels, Mark and I have been looking back over the places we have visited and debating which has the best scenery, food, beaches, and so on. Sydney wins “place with the most beautiful people” hands down. It’s easy to see why: the mild weather year round means active leisure is a way of life (not counting the rainstorm on our first day, the “winter” days we experienced were more than 20 degrees).

The Australians are rather literal people; place names in Sydney tend to avoid poetry or obscure references and describe at face value instead. For example, The Rocks is an area which is quite…rocky; the Snowy Mountains nearby are…snowy mountains.

We learnt that Manly, an area of Sydney which must be accessed by ferry, was so named because one of the early European settlers was impressed by the local Aborigine muscly physique.

Manly was a picturesque place to watch the sun set.

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The ferry gives you some great views of the famous landmarks, particularly after the sun goes down.

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We couldn’t leave Sydney without saying hello to some kangaroos, wallabies and koalas so off we went to Featherdale Wildlife Park. I was in my element; I couldn’t believe how friendly the animals were.

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It’s not possible to cuddle koalas in New South Wales; you’ve got to go to Queeensland for that. Although they seem cute, fluffy and docile they have pretty savage claws so a tentative stroke was enough!

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This baby kangaroo was being handed around so it would become comfortable around humans.

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Food wise, we indulged in a Sydney institution, a “tiger” pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. The iconic food cart in the Woolloomooloo area (which incidentally is probably the most fun place name to say) is plastered with loads of pictures of Harry’s celebrity fans eating their pies.

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A “tiger” is a meat pie topped with mash, proper marrowfat mushy peas and gravy.

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We couldn’t visit Sydney without spending a morning having brunch at one of Bill Granger’s legendary cafés. The eggs lived up to the hype.

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An even better treat was being able to catch up with friends on the other end of the globe – this lovely lady is Clea, who I used to work with in London.

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PS – Although we don’t have photographic proof, Mark and I both did skydives in Sydney! The plan was to skydive in Queenstown, New Zealand, but bad weather stopped play. My instructor was so fun and enthusiastic that I was seriously considering a major career change until Mark pointed out I was probably just still high on adrenalin. Fair point!

Food in Ecuador

I’ve said before how much I love checking out food markets in new places. Aside from the eye-catching displays of fruit & veg, in South American countries like Ecuador there are often stalls hawking hot food and cheap set meals made from the market’s best produce. Generally, the prices are astonishingly low because the ingredients are so readily available – and I imagine long standing deals with the produce stall keepers are arranged.

It can work out cheaper to buy a three or four course market almuerzo at $2.50 (typically consisting of a hearty soup, fresh salad, some sort of chicken or meat stew with rice, potatoes and a spicy salsa, with a fresh fruit smoothie or fruit salad to finish) than to make a picnic back at your hostel.

Like the increasingly popular street food scene in London, hot food stalls in Ecuadorian markets are strictly no frills operations: you are given just a single spoon to eat with (forget being shy about using hands and teeth to do what a spoon cannot) and kiddie sized plastic furniture to sit on. The food is always hearty, simple and rustic – nothing fancy.

Some examples of typical almuerzo fare: a plate brimming with sausage, chicken, meat stew, rice, fried egg, salad and lapingachos (fried potato and cheese cakes)…

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Or yagauarlocro (potato soup with toppings of fried black pudding/blood sausage, crunchy onion and avocado). Love all the textures in one bowl…

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But friendly service costs nothing and is often provided with abundance – the stall holders are all jokes and smiles as they motion you to sit down, or invite you to stick your nose into their saucepans to see what they’ve got cooking. Condiments are always interesting – aji (homemade hot salsa) is often on the tables along with freshly cut lime wedges and diced onion.

As well as being a great way to stay within tight backpacking budgets, eating in markets lets you get away from the gringo joints and sample what locals really eat. It’s not unusual to be squashed in at a table where a toothless octogenarian cholita, a suited business professional and a gaggle of uniformed schoolkids are all slurping away at identical set meals.

It was a setting like this where we had one of the most enjoyable and visually memorable meals of our time in Ecuador, on the top floor of a grubby market in Cuenca.

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Pork is a big deal in Cuenca. I don’t know the exact recipe but it probably goes something like this:

  1. Get a bloody great big pig
  2. Blast it with heat until every inch of skin turns into thick, crisp crackling
  3. Plonk the whole thing out on a counter top – the head or a few of the legs will inevitably flop over the edges
  4. The serving lady must always be elbow deep inside the carcass to pull out the juiciest shreds of meat with her fingers
  5. The serving lady must also snap off samples of that insane crackling to lure people to sit at her tables
  6. Serve with potato cakes, maize, salad and a spoon

Markets are also a great place for breakfasts in the morning. In Ecuador, empanadas are not the Cornish pasty-like baked meaty treats you get elsewhere. Here they are more like donuts: fried until puffy, filled with mild creamy cheese and dusted with sugar.

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Great with a coffee, or a cup of morocho, a thick hot drink made of maize simmered in milk with cinnamon, cloves, sugar and raisins – a bit like rice pudding.

Another uniquely Ecuadorian take on the empanada is empanadas verde, made with mashed green plantain. These are uncooked, waiting for a quick flash in a frying pan…

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We kept seeing malta con huevo for sale at various drinks stalls in markets. After confirming that this does in fact mean “malt beer with egg” and is sometimes translated into the English “scrambled beer”, our curiosity was piqued enough to order a couple to try for oursleves. We watched in astonishment as the drinks stall lady filled a blender with an unlikely combination of ingredients. In went a bottle of pilsner, a slurp of alfalfa juice, a bit of borojo pulp from a packet (a sour fruit, pic below) and finally a raw egg to be whizzed together.

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The end result was peculiar but surprisingly drinkable – the earthy taste of beer somehow works with the grassy alfalfa. We both finished our glasses, albeit with looks of confusion on our faces. I think malta con huevo would be a great hangover cure – a filling meal in a glass, gentle on the tummy, with a bit of hair of the dog, vitamins from the fruit and alfalfa and protein from the egg. Only a drunkard could have invented it!

A less challenging drink commonly served in Ecuador’s markets is jugo or thick juices: fresh fruit blended with water or milk and sugar. Ecuador’s diverse ecosystems yield a wealth of native fruit and even the smallest stalls have dozens of options. Mark has developed a taste for tangy tamarino (tamarind) and my favourite is tomate d’arbol (tomatillo), a beautiful fruit with a taste which is hard to pin down – the seeds, internal structure and sharpness are reminiscent of an unripe tomato but there is also a delicate, fruity flavour a bit like melon.

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It seems to grow everywhere in Ecuador but I haven’t come across it before in the UK; I read that you can source the frozen pulp which would work in a blended juice but not sure if you can get the fresh fruits. Tomate d’arbol is also awesome in aji de tomate d’arbol – a punchy salsa made with the fruit and hot chillies. I have bookmarked this recipe to play with later.

Although Quito is miles from the coast, one of the specialities of the capital city’s food market is corvina (sea bass). This meal at Quito’s Mercado Central consisted of a huge slab of the fish served with ceviche (in Ecuador, ceviche is quite soupy, with lots of lime juice), potatoes and popcorn – all for $4!

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After the epic pork at Cuenca’s market, we ate another kind of pig; guinea pig or cuy is a delicacy in Ecuador as well as Peru. The friendly man who made us our Panama hats in Cuenca recommended a local place which specialised in cuy, Tres Estrellas.

It takes at least an hour to cook so you have to call in advance to avoid a long wait; although they are little creatures they are quite fatty so time is needed to get a really crispy skin.

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Ecuadorians think the best bit is the feet so we tried them – they taste like pub pork scratchings. We were slightly more squeamish about the head, which still had teeth intact…

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Ecuador grows some of the best cacao in the world and if you avoid the ubiquitous Nestlé bars, you can find really fine chocolate. We stocked up on some sublime bars at Quito’s Kallari cafe, which is linked to a small artisan producer in the countryside.

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The cafe also makes gorgeous tarts, cakes and brownies – we couldn’t resist sharing this gooey pud.

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Before I came to Ecuador I read this Guardian article which indicated that Ecuador’s food scene was behind Peru’s and eagerly snapping at its neighbour’s heels. Some of the country’s top chefs and foodies seem to be envious and indignant about Peru’s global culinary success and can’t help but compare the two cuisines.

But after a couple of weeks of happy, stimulating eating around Ecuador, I see no need for this anxious “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude – Ecuadorean food deserves to be more than just second fiddle to the popular Peruvian trend. It is hugely underrated and should be recognised in its own right.

London food and travel tips

In Buenos Aires, Mark and I met a couple of New Yorkers who were on the last day of their travels. They kindly gave us the notes they had been using, which had been meticulously written by their Argentinian friend who was clearly knowledgeable, passionate and effusive about his capital city.

With these notes, we knew we would have a blast in BA (we did) and promised to return the favour by sending our new Big Apple buddies some pointers for their forthcoming trips to London.

Thought I would post them here in case others might find them useful!

Around Piccadilly Circus/Green Park area:

Sights

  • Piccadilly Circus itself
  • Eros statue
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Liberty department store in beautiful mock Tudor building
  • Carnaby St (funky shops, bars, restaurants – the heart of 1960s flower power)

Eating & Drinking

  • Brasserie Zedel – smack next to the tube station, BZ is a French style bistro in a grand setting that looks expensive, but the prices are astonishingly low and food is very good quality. Also has shows e.g. singers, cabaret. A real gem amongst lots of tourist traps.
  • Bocca di Lupo on Archer St serves fantastic Italian food – the menu is organised by region and is scrupulously researched. The owners also have a great gelateria opposite, Gelupo, for ice cream. Book in advance if you can. Again, a great place to know about in a neighbourhood loaded with tourist traps.
  • The Japan Centre is more of a shop/grocery store than a restaurant but makes its own fresh sushi throughout the day. Decent, affordable sushi to go plus a small area for eating in – a great option for a quick lunch.
  • The Ritz – you have to have a proper afternoon tea when you’re in London! (You don’t just get tea, it’s actually a substantial feed with loads of finger sandwiches, cake, scones etc). The Ritz is the quintessential, famous experience but is expensive and hard to book. Many of the older, grander hotels have beautiful afternoon tea services. Try The Dorchester, The Goring, The Landmark, The Athenaeum or The English Tea Room at Browns as alternatives.
  • Fortnum & Mason – the Queen’s grocer! Photogenic, opulent place to browse, buy gifts, souvenirs etc or just stop for a drink.
  • The Wolseley – gorgeous setting, great atmosphere. Go for breakfast/brunch (order a full English breakfast or bacon sandwich with HP sauce) or afternoon tea, and celebrity spotting!
  • Shoryu – ramen is a big food trend in London right now. This ramen bar has a simple, authentic Tokyo style with good prices.

Around Chinatown/ Leicester Square:

Sights

  • Trafalgar Square
  • National Gallery
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • West End

Eating & Drinking

  •  Avoid the dodgy Chinatown tourist traps and the pushy men trying to wave you inside with menus and go to the Empress of Sichuan on Lisle St for a more refined, less greasy Chinese food experience – it specialises in Sichuan food which can be very spicy.
  • Wong Kei is cheap and cheerful Chinese – it’s nothing fancy whatsoever but it has been around for decades and the waiters are renowned for their hilarious rudeness.
  • De Hems – a historic Dutch cafe/bar, great place for a drink any time, gets lively in the evenings.
  • Burger/Lobster – very popular place that has just two things on the menu (the name of the restaurant is a clue!) and just one price point: £20. The smart choice is obviously lobster – you get a whole one with fries and salad for just £20 which is amazing value especially in the expensive Mayfair neighbourhood. Other branches in Soho, Farringdon and the City too.

Around Soho, Oxford Circus, towards Marylebone:

Sights & activities

  • Selfridges
  • lots of shopping streets
  • parks
  • nightlife

Eating & Drinking

  •  Meatliquor – London´s food scene is obsessed with burgers at the moment and there have been dozens of new places opening recently, all competing to serve the most filthy-tasty, drool worthy burger. Meatliquor started the trend and still reigns supreme (although others worth checking out are Lucky Chip, Honest burgers, Patty & Bun, and the Byron chain)
  • Providores – one of my favourite places for brunch. The Turkish eggs and a Bloody Mary hit the spot!
  • Bone Daddies – My top pick out of the new ramen restaurants that have caused a stir recently. The 22 hour pork broth and soft shell crab dishes are to die for. Great cocktails too.
  • Koya, Frith St – a mainstay of “cheap eats” lists, specialising in incredible thick, slippery udon noodles and inventive daily specials.
  • Yalla Yalla is another good choice for great food at very affordable prices – it serves fresh, healthy and tasty Lebanese street food.
  • Spuntino on Rupert St is very cool – it’s tiny and they don’t take reservations but people queue for the killer cocktails and food (their style is New York esque pimped snack food like sliders, mac & cheese, truffled egg toast) . Best to head at non peak times when it won’t be so busy.

Around Westminster:

Sights

  • Houses of Parliament
  • Big Ben
  • London Eye
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Westminster Cathedral

Eating & Drinking

  • Cinnamon Club for a pricey, but damn good, “posh” Indian. Check out toptable.com, as they sometimes have offers.
  • Anchor & Hope on The Cut – one of the original gastropubs, still good. This is on the other side of the river from Westminster (Waterloo)
  • Also The Ring is a pub on the corner of The Cut and Blackfriars Road. The old home of British boxing. Good pints and great photographs on the walls.

Around Covent Garden:

Sights

  •  Covent Garden piazza
  •  Royal Opera House
  •  good shopping around Neal Street

Eating & Drinking

  •  Hawksmoor Seven Dials serves the best steak in London, and also has an awesome, chic but unpretentious, old fashioned bar which is worth a visit alone – all stunning dark wood panelling etc. The lobster roll in a brioche bun with saffron butter is pricey (£25) but unmissable – best thing to do is share one over cocktails at the bar, then head to the restaurant for your main meal. Book in advance.
  • The Porterhouse – great spot for a pint, if you can choose from the hundreds of beers
  • Belgo’s is a low price Belgian restaurant. Specialises in mussels, chips and beer. “Beat the clock” is worth knowing about – if you order between 5 and 7pm you pay the time you order, ie at 5:30pm you pay £5.30.
  • J Sheekey is a classic venue for pre/post theatre meals – lots of celebs go here. On the pricey side but should be memorable.
  • Dishoom – Highly recommend: really good, modern Indian food, funky décor like a Bombay cafe, mid range prices. Also a branch in Shoreditch, east London. A great way to sample some of the city’s fantastic Indian food.
  • Food for Thought is London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant and still going strong – my dad has been going since the 70s, maaan. Very good value, big portions, tasty even for diehard carnivores!
  • Homeslice pizza will be opening their first restaurant in March in Neals Yard, Covent Garden- they serve great pizza around the city from their street food stall so their first fixed address should be good!
  • Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (on Fleet Street, bit of a stretch to say this is Covent Garden but hey) is a landmark pub that´s been around for centuries.

Around London Bridge area:

Sights

  •  Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • London Dungeons
  • Borough market
  • Tate Modern
  • The Shard

Eating & Drinking

  • Bermondsey St has become a real foodie hotspot. One of my top tips in the whole city is Zucca – fantastic, authentic, unpretentious and affordable Italian. It won an award for 2nd best Italian restaurant in the whole of Europe, including Italy itself!. Their signature veal chop is a must-try. Book now!
  • Also on Bermondsey St are two great Spanish tapas places, Jose and around the corner, Pizarro – both owned by Jose Pizarro (see what he did there). Jose has a no reservations policy and it’s tiny so the queues can get ridiculous. The best time to go is between lunch and dinner rushes, i.e. 3 or 4 pm, for a cheeky sherry and a plate of jamon. I think Pizarro takes bookings.
  • The Garrison is a good gastropub on Bermondsey St – great for modern British food/ pub grub and a pint.
  • Nearby is Magdalen which is a London stalwart – one of the city’s top restaurant critics, Fay Maschler, names this as her favourite restaurant which is quite an accolade! Their menu is modern British, very seasonal and fresh, they change the menu twice a day. You’re guaranteed to have a lovely experience here.
  • Also in this area is Borough Market which is great for browsing, nibbling and shopping – it’s open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but Saturdays get very crowded with tourists so I’d avoid then if possible,or at least go early. The restaurant “Fish” in Borough Market has v good fish & chips. A newer, cooler foodie market has recently sprung up around the corner called Maltby St Market – head here to avoid the herds of tourists.
  • Elliot´s Café – in the heart of Borough Market, this buzzy, unpretentious restaurant picks the freshest, tastiest items from the market to put on the menu. Love it.
  • The George Inn – good pub

Around Farringdon:

Eating & Drinking

  • The Eagle, Farringdon Road, is a wonderful gastropub, possibly one of my favourites in the whole city.
  • Moro – highly recommend. Attentive service, interesting flavours, specialise in North African/Moorish food (v similar to Mediterranean/Middle Eastern).
  • The Modern Pantry is also an excellent choice – run by a New Zealander with international influences.

Around Shoreditch and East London:

Sights

  • Spitalfields Market
  • Colombia Road
  • Bishopsgate
  • the Gherkin

Eating & Drinking

  •  Kingsland Road is known as the “pho mile” because of all the Vietnamese restaurants- find your favourite!
  • Poppies – terrific fish & chips in a young, funky setting
  • Tayyabs – A must-visit. Dodge the tourist traps of Brick Lane, turn a corner and head to Tayyabs, a dearly loved institution serving amazing Pakistani food, famous for their spiced, grilled meats. It’s virtually impossible to spend more than £20 per person! No booze licence but you can BYO (bring your own) which keeps costs down 🙂
  • Beigel shop on Brick Lane – forget what you know about New York bagels, a beigel is sweeter, chewier and never toasted. Whether filled with sour cream & smoked salmon or salt beef and English mustard, this place churns out hundreds of beigels to steady queues of happy punters, 24 hours a day (good place to know about if you need a post clubbing snack at 4am)
  • Duck & Waffle – worth a visit just for the turbo powered external glass elevator zooming you above the city at gut-dropping speeds! Food and cocktails decent too, though some of the more experimental flavour combos divide opinion. It´s open 24 hours a day.
  • Ozone – excellent New Zealand coffee roastery which serves killer breakfasts, brunches and lunches. Very hipster, east London style.

South of the river (worth crossing for!)

  • The Ship, Wandsworth – simply a brilliant pub, right on the river. Their scotch eggs are famous. Great venue for a traditional British Sunday roast as well.
  • Brixton Village – a mecca for foodies, this covered market contains Honest burgers, Franco manca, French & Grace and much more! Go hungry and hop from place to place, browsing and eating. Brixton is an interesting place to visit – it used to be a very affluent area (Electric Avenue was the first street in London to get electricity) but is now it´s a bit rundown but still great fun – the huge Caribbean communities mean cool markets, bars and live music gigs in this neighbourhood.

Other foodie tips:

The Ledbury, Notting Hill – I am yet to go, but this is often described the best restaurant in London and has 2 Michelin stars. Pricey but everyone I know raves about it. Would be a memorable treat.

Dinner by Heston – again, haven’t been yet but very high on my list! The “meat fruit” dish is famous – looks like a perfect mandarin fruit but has got pâté inside.

General London tips:

Definitely get an Oyster card (from most tube stations at a window). It will cost you £5 deposit which you can redeem. With an Oyster card you can pass through barriers quickly, like a local, and the fares are cheaper than paper tickets. Oyster cards can be used on the entire London Transport network which includes tube, buses, overland lines, DLR and rail journeys within the city. You can either load the card with credit for “pay as you go” journeys or buy a one day/one week travelcard if you’re going to be travelling around town a lot (I think zone 1&2 travelcards cost around £7 per day or £30 per week, whereas a single fare is a couple of quid, so travelcards are the best option if you will be hopping on and off several times a day).

www.tfl.gov.uk is a helpful website that lets you check if tube lines are running well or have any delays. It’s got a useful Journey Planner tool which tells you the best route from A to B.

Avoid the wrath (or at least, loud tutting) of London commuters: walk quickly, don’t stop near the barriers and stand on the right of escalators, please!

Time Out (free magazine distributed on the street, and online) is a good source of info

Square Meal online – reviews site that lets you search by restaurant, cuisine or area

Pick up an Evening Standard – they’re free daily newspapers which often have good info on things happening around the city

My favourite museum is the Victoria & Albert, followed closely by the Natural History museum (which incidentally is also my favourite building in London). Check them out! You must also go to the British Museum which has enough artefacts to keep you occupied for your whole visit… it’s in the Bloomsbury area which is a beautiful, historic neighbourhood to wander around.

Another fun thing to do is a boat trip down the river towards Greenwich – it gives you a different view of the city and you can visit the home of Greenwich Mean Time.

There is so much more – London is a vast and culturally rich city – but this is enough to keep you busy and well fed for some time.

Alcino’s legendary breakfast, Lencois, Bahia, Brazil

As soon as my friend Maxine heard I was going to Brazil, she kindly sent me a wealth of info and advice from her own travels. She was especially adamant that I should experience one thing in particular – the legendary breakfasts at Alcino’s pousada in Lencois, the gateway to Chapada Diamantina national park.

Maxine’s recommendation wasn’t just because she knows me, my voracious appetite and willingness to travel far for exceptional food. Alcino and his breakfasts are renowned in Brazil and beyond. People travel for hours to stay at his small, chic yet welcoming pousada, and claim the breakfast is better than any other in the world, scorning famous names like the Ritz. Friends we met in Rio and Salvador were instantly jealous that we would be staying there. One proclaimed that the 7 hour bus journey from Salvador to Lencois would be worthwhile for breakfast at Alcino’s alone, even if we didn’t bother with the region’s main attractions of magnificent waterfalls, jungles and hills.

Upon arrival, knowing we would be feasting on the Breakfast of Breakfasts in a few hours, Mark and I went to bed as giddy as children on Christmas Eve. We had purposefully planned little else; Alcino’s website asks his guests to forget about two things – dieting and haste. My kind of guy…

It didn’t disappoint – every detail was glorious. The table was laid elegantly with china hand-painted by Alcino and a large platter piled with freshly cut fruit at the centre.
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As well as cooking and ceramics, another of Alcino’s talents is horticulture. At the back of the pousada is a large orchard where all sorts of tropical fruits grow, which invariably end up on the breakfast table.
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An assortment of home-made jams, jellies and chutneys were offered to accompany fresh, hot rolls, cakes and breads. We also had a few different flavoured salts, home-made herb butters, ricotta, mozzarella, and yoghurt to play with.
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Soon a steady procession of little plates started filling every spare bit of tablecloth. Many dishes seemed surprising choices for breakfast, but worked well.

We had kibbeh flavoured with mint and stuffed with oozing cheese:
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Pastry tart with cashew fruit and nuts
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Circles of squash topped with blue cheese and a zesty orange glaze
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Plus much more we were too busy enjoying to photograph: perfect scrambled eggs, curls of ham, sticky banana and chocolate squares, spiced poached apples, toasted granola, manioc pizza, etc etc.

All this was washed down with plenty of fresh juice (forget boring orange – at Alcino’s you get things like acerola or umbu juice), fine loose leaf teas and high quality coffee.

Not your typical backpacking fodder at all but Mark and I justified the extravagance because we were about to head into the jungle for a three day trek, where meals would be simply fuel and only what we could carry. This was definitely the right decision – the trek was incredible and allowed us to see some absolutely tear-jerkingly beautiful sights, but tough. Our guide told me I was “very strong” but the combination of the heat, steep climbs, heavy backpack, sleeping on rocks and drinking river water nearly broke me!

If you’re going to Lencois (or anywhere vaguely close) I highly recommend you visit Alcino – it’s a well deserved treat to offset the bootcamp-like bits of trekking in the stunning Chapada Diamantina.

(We paid 200 Brazilian reals for a double room at Alcino’s, which includes his legendary breakfast).

http://www.alcinoestalagem.com/