All week I’ve been segueing left at the car park entrance to Chiswick House to visit the horses and hens at Giffords Circus (www.GIFFORDSCIRCUS.COM for latest location details), recently arrived and set up in two huge meadows adjacent to Chiswick House.
I love this charming old-fashioned circus run by Nell Gifford and this morning we have tickets for the 11am show. This is the fifth year running for me and the theme is Sixties-inspired and called Xanadu. Afterwards, it’s straight back to my house where the Barrister and I have eight for lunch. Before we set off, I check I have everything organised for le grand aioli and the gazpacho is thoroughly chilled.
My plan is to cover the scraped and boiled new potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes or so when we get back, so they are hot, otherwise everything is pre-boiled and cold. Hard-boiled eggs, cauli florets, green beans, asparagus tips, peas, baby fennel, carrots and spring onions all in poly boxes in the fridge next to the aioli and winkles, the cod poached and peeled and waiting under foil in a cool spot in the kitchen. There’s a lot of advance preparation for this lovely feast but it can be set out buffet style for self service or dishing up to suit what everyone wants.
I’d laid the table in the kitchen as the weather was a bit dodgy, but by the time we were back from the (highly recommended, very fun and deeply, wonderfully eccentric) circus, the sun was almost out. We had all the doors open and a lovely breeze wafted through as the Whispering Angel was poured. The gazpacho was thick and refreshing, rich and creamy with a splash of delectable lemon-infused Colonna Granverde olive oil (thank you www.oilmerchant.co.uk) to enrich the Isle of Wight tomatoes (www.thetomatostall.co.uk), pointy red peppers, chilli and cucumber with white sourdough breadcrumbs. The salad soup was at its finest. The Barrister prepared a superb cheese board on his new pride and joy, a replica of his childhood mouse-edged dark wooden cheese board (the original still going strong at his mother’s house), tracked down via an internet auction. We had a selection of Peter’s Yard crispbreads with the cheese (biscuits, cheese and bread from www.bayley-sage.co.uk), with strawberries and Neal’s Yard Greek yoghurt to finish. It wasn’t until later that night, when the clearing up was done and the leftovers stashed, that I realized I’d forgotten the winkles. And all the time, the cork I’d prepared with pins for winkling was staring at me from the window ledge.
Lunch was a delicious leftovers triumph, veg, egg and aioli, the fish dispatched last night with son Henry for his dog Arrow suffering digestive problems.
The Barrister treated us to supper at Vinoteca (www.vinoteca.co.uk/locations/chiswick), one of my favourite local places. I remember it as an electrical repair shop when I first moved to this part of Chiswick. The B maxed out on their famously good bavette steak and chips with horseradish and rocket, while I had more fish, this time hake with borlotti beans and al dente slices of courgette. The fish skin was crisp and too good to leave, the flesh flaking into silky, slippery pieces.
Today I’m flying to Greece with my friend Tessa, to re live our many holidays over the years together in Lemnos. We breakfasted on Bloody Mary’s and a shared smoked salmon and egg mayo open sandwich at the Caviar House Prunier counter at Heathrow. It came with half a lemon knotted in muslin, a rather forgotten old trick to catch the pips; these days we copy the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver’s way of using one hand to squeeze, while catching the pips in the other held beneath it. Lunch on board our Aegean flight was one of the best in-flight meals I’ve ever had; tender chunks of chicken and extremely tasty potato in a lemon and olive oil sauce/cum dressing. Also in the tray was a mound of whipped feta looking exactly like meringue with a black olive in the middle and scraps of red pepper; a sort of deconstructed Greek salad. A strange bread roll nestled next to a foil-covered triangle of soft cheese spread, the sort we used to squeeze directly into the mouth on childhood picnics. Needless to say, that’s exactly what I did. Two pieces of pale Turkish delight for pud and two different very good white wines – Semeli and Agrimi – put us on the right foot for the delay at Athens airport for our flight connection.
Our fist supper was a triumph. We strode past the surprisingly modern butcher, our friend the greengrocer and our other friends (unfairly named the brothers Grimm, whose cavernous shop is a favourite for anything and everything you ever needed or didn’t know you needed) to Myrina old port, where fishing boats bob in the water next to a gaggle of cafes nudged together, the demarcations determined by the colour of the table cloths. We headed for a newly upgrated old favourite, now with white, rush-seated ladder back chairs and maps of Lemnos table cloths. We chose prawns that arrived crisp and whole, their heads pulled off and the rest eaten in one gulp. Calamari grilled and big enough to fill a dinner plate arrived with crisp tentacles (always the most desirable bit) doused with lemon and olive oil.
Their Greek salad came with lots of cucumber and many wafer-thin slices of very pale, sweet green pepper, chunks of dark red tomato and slivers of red onion topped by a huge slab of feta dusted with local dried oregano. We sank a jug of lovely local white wine (www.greeceandgrapes.com/en/limnos)and toasted being back in Lemnos.
The first spinach pie for breakfast, this one with feta and fashioned in a coil (9/10), with coffee (my favourite Lavazza espresso) made in a little pot I’d brought with me, bought earlier this year in Kefalonia. We head to the beach at Thanos with our favourite driver Andonis and by noon the talk turns to whether it’s to be beer (Mythos) or Campari pre-lunch drinks at the beach bar.
The trellis walkway that leads to Harry’s (aka Giannakaros Traditional Fish Tavern) isn’t overhung with bunches of grapes this year (our visit is earlier in the season than usual) but the huge taverna overspill next to where Harry used to grow aubergine, tomato and courgette for the restaurant, has been enclosed under a vine canopy with pretty new green painted rush-seated ladder back chairs. It becomes our new favourite spot for lunch. We greet Harry’s brother Peter (who we call Big John; he is) who now runs the place and we commiserate over the unexpected sad news of Harry’s death. Big John’s daughter greets us like the long lost friends we are (it’s three years since our last visit), and takes our lunch order. First up, a big bottle of water, a basket of golden Limnos bread, a jug of white wine – thereafter served to our table as soon as we arrive; we come for lunch every day. Then follows the best Greek salad ever, this one with added pickled samphire-like greens.
Huge, fat grilled sardines and their famous zucchini frites – thinly sliced, dipped in the superior Limnos flour and deep fried, arrive without a trace of oil. We roll the crisp slivers in heavenly tzatziki; truly the best I’ve ever had is served at Harry’s. Thick Greek yoghurt holds grated, seeded cucumber, the seasoning a hint of garlic and mint. Oh yum. It’s good to be back.
We go back to the same Myrina Café for supper, sitting round the corner this time, along the wall of tables for two opposite the fishing boats, with views to the new Harbour and its sailing boats and the up-lit castle on the rock behind it. We feast on beetroot cooked with stalks and greens dressed with olive oil and lemon, horta – sloppy mixed greens served cold, and another grilled calamari with particularly crisp tentacles. And a jug of white wine. We are on the point of leaving, when our greengrocer turned up at the next table. He loves us, always so pleased to see us each year and sent another jug of wine. We beat a hasty retreat as the storm clouds are gathering and streaks of lightening are flashing over and round the castle. There are shrieks all around as flash, flash, flash goes the lightening and the dogs begin to bark as the thunder starts and the rain pelts down. It’s lovely on our balcony.
Breakfast on a perfect peach, easily peeled and sliced to eat with thick and creamy Greek sheep’s milk yoghurt. Boil an egg in one of those Greek coffee pans with toast made by Tessa from bread pinched in a paper napkin from last night’s Café. Blustery, chilly day, with overcast sky but promise of blue and sunshine by early afternoon. We think of buying pasta and olive oil and to pinch a few basil leaves for a pasta lunch with fresh tomato sauce made with Kosta’s gift (our landlord) of home-grown tomatoes. But no, that didn’t happen. On our walk the sun started to poke through the cloudy sky, more blue overwhelmed the clouds and we bumped into Andonis, our driver. That’s how we came to be the only people on Thanos beach and later at Harry’s. We tucked into a perfect Greek salad, tzatziki, toasted bread (no fresh, due to the storm) and, joy of joys, sliced melanzane (aubergine) floured and deep fried to a perfect golden crisp, inside molten and buttery.
The slices arrived radiating out of a mound of fluffy skordalia (cold garlicky mashed potato). A jug of wine, water and our usual beach walk, before we read our books hoping the sun would shine brightly and eventually it did.
Back at Kostas, Tessa has her first attempt at Negroni: proportions 1 gin, 1 Campari, 1 Martini rosse, slice of orange zest and loads of ice. She used a small Greek coffee pot (about the size of one espresso shot) for the measuring. Result? A tumbler each; it certainly hit the spot.
Dinner was back to our new favourite Café. This time a platter of huge bbq prawns and home made chips. Stole bread wrapped in paper napkin for toast to go with tomorrow’s boiled egg.
No boiled egg today. Instead, Tessa ran out to the bakery for spinach pie, again with feta; this time an oblong wedge (6/10). I cut us slices of sweet and aromatic melon, eaten with more Greek sheep’s yoghurt.
Our eyes were bigger than our bellies at lunch time. Another huge Greek salad and we asked for olive oil to dip our bread it. It arrived in a metal gravy boat, grassy and peppery like Tuscan oil and really delicious. Platters of deep fried aubergine slices and zucchini plus a gift from the kitchen of three plump, pointed yet fleshy green peppers beautifully griddled. With tzatziki too, we were fit to burst.
On our first night in Myrina, at our now favourite Café, the family at the next-door table to ours were sharing a huge platter of spaghetti lobster, the pasta flecked with red and glossy with olive oil. We have talked of little else. Each night, as we sink our sundowner, we wonder whether tonight will be the night when we order it. Well it happened tonight. A small lobster was chosen and delivered to us split lengthways and laid out open like a long, slim book. Its sharp, dangerous feelers pointed forward like two slim chop sticks, the cavity between the halves loaded with what turned out to be tomato and red pepper-flecked spaghetti with scraps of chopped flat leaf parsley. This presentation is truly fantastic and it took several moments of gawping before I dived in to winkle out the firmly attached, glossy white meat nestling in the cavities. Our rock lobster’s spiny legs were too tiny to crack and the main claws too hard and ridged, so we had to forgo what was surely only a small morsel. The puny crackers provided just weren’t up to the job. My what a feast that was and needless to say, the finest, oiliest, richest spoonfuls of pasta lay under and around the beast. We were overwhelmed by the quantity but hardly a strand remained by the time we had finished; it was just too good to leave.
Lunch at Harry’s was a dish of just caught anchovy looking every bit like plump whitebait, floured and delivered to the table crisp eat-all morsels, fabulous with a squeeze of lemon. Extraordinarily good with Greek salad the very fresh bread with its irresistible golden crust, the dough almost as honey-coloured.
Back to our favourite Cafe, tonight a healthy supper of beetroot (with stalks and leaves, flat leaf parsley, oil and vinegar, almost a meal in itself with a dusting of their superb sea salt). Crisp little deep fried prawns and tzatziki were the perfect accompaniment.