Where we ate when we were in London

As I promised in my previous entries on my trip to London, I am now going to tell you about some of our culinary experiences. You already know that I love British food, and I had to make the most of it. Of course, and as you might imagine by now, one of the chosen restaurants was Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, near Old Street, in Islington. On their website they say that they “cook elegant, rustic, honest food that flicks your senses from classic, nostalgic flavours to new, inspired dishes cooked by super-skilled young minds.” With this project Jamie Oliver has helped hundreds of unemployed young people, who have often been brought up in disadvantaged environments, to learn to work in the restaurant business and has given them the chance to have a better future. In addition, the Fifteen donates all its profits to Jamie Oliver’s charity, whose main objective is to provide a better access to food education, contributing to a healthier world. And the food… As Jamie would say: absolutely delicious, gorgeous, fantastic food, incredible, oohhh, wow… DSC_5093 DSC_5099 DSC_5103

The pictures I took were not great. I forgot to take pictures to the nibbles. And then, half of the pictures I took turned out blurry, so here you can only find a photo of the Telmara Duck Breast, but we also tried the Hereford Short Rib. I can tell you that the duck would melt in your mouth, as they cook it very slowly for many hours. I am more of a veggie, but I have to recognise that I was conquered by these fantastic dishes. The desserts were delicious too. I’m sorry to tell you that if you get to go to the Fifteen you will not be able to try the same dishes, as they change the menu quite frequently, but you will equally enjoy it.

The other restaurant I would like to talk about is Heddon Street Kitchen, which belongs to the Gordon Ramsay Group restaurants. Gordon is another of the British star chefs, whose restaurants have been awarded fifteen Michelin stars in total. Heddon Street Kitchen was our chosen restaurant for the typical brunch. As it couldn’t be any other way, I chose the Eggs Bennedict (have you seen Gordon insistently asking apprentices to know how to cook perfectly poached eggs and hollandaise sauce at the American edition of Masterchef?) with smoked salmon, and J. asked for the Avocado on Toast (avocado wedges on pumpernickel, poached egg, mustard mayo). It was absolutely delicious and I was only disappointed by not ordering any desserts but we were so full we didn’t want to get sick after having eaten too much. The portions of food were generous, and to top it all, we didn’t go to the restaurant on an empty stomach. The restaurant location is also excellent as Heddon Street is just off Regent Street. DSC_5478

DSC_5483  DSC_5485DSC_5486 DSC_5491 But pub food can never be missed when travelling to the UK. We were very lucky as our hotel was very close to the Victoria Pub, in Paddington, where the food was marvellous as well as traditional British pub food, which was what I was looking for. We were not very hungry so we just shared this Bangers and Mash and this Sticky Toffee Pudding.

bangers and mash sticky toffee pudding When we were in Notting Hill we tried to go to Bill Granger’s restaurant but it was absolutely packed and the queue outside was endless (they do not take reservations). I suppose that being a Saturday, the day when Portobello Market is at its full, it was not the best of times to go. I still decided to leave you a picture of Granger & Co. from the outside. Next time we will be in London we will definitely be eating here. DSC_5352 The rest of my culinary recommendations will be on bakeries and cake shops. One of them is Konditor & Cook, which has several branches all over London. I went to the Borough Market shop, where I tried this delicious Spiced Brownie. You already know that I love brownies and this was definitely worth a try as it was delicious.

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I would also suggest you try one of the cakes at The Hummingbird Bakery. We went to the Portobello branch, but they have a few shops in London. We tried the Pumpkin Chai Cupcake and the Cheesecake Brownie, but there are so many more cakes to try… I absolutely loved them. DSC_5344 DSC_5345  DSC_5347

However, the best cake I tried during this trip to London was in one of the establishments at Kingly Court, in Carnaby Street. It was a steamed pudding that I shared with my dear friend E. and… Oh My God! I have no words. I couldn’t believe that something so small could taste so good. I will be remembering that cake for the rest of my life. DSC_5499DSC_5397 I hope you have found my suggestions interesting and that you got some ideas if you are travelling to London. But London has so many places to go that there are thousands of venues to stop by.

Some History on the British Monarchy

As I already told you in my last entry, I have been away from the blog lately as many changes and new projects have crossed my path these last few months. One of these projects was an online photography course that I took last week. I never thought you could do so many things with a camera. Let’s hope I can make better pictures for the blog in the future.

All this hustle made me lose some important events that took place in the UK lately, as the UK general election, or the birth of HRH Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the Princess of Cambridge, at the beginning of May. And this is why I would like to write some facts about the British Monarchy.

Charlotte is not the first Princess of Cambridge. Princess Mary Adelaide Wilhelmina Elizabeth of Cambridge, born in 1833, also held the title, as did her sister Princess Augusta, born in 1822. They also had a brother named George, and were the granddaughters of King George III. Of the two girls, Mary was the more charismatic one. As she was one of the earliest royals to support a wide range of charitable organizations, she was affectionately known as the “People’s Princess”, like Princess Diana. Mary is Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandmother as her elder daughter, also named Mary, was married to George V.

Princess Mary of Cambridge

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge is fourth in line to the throne. In 2013, the Queen modified the law relating to the line of succession before Prince George’s birth, to ensure it would not be affected by gender. Previously, daughters came to the throne only when there were no sons. Under the Succession to the Crown Act, princes no longer take precedence over their sisters, bringing an end to the system of male preference which had been in place since the Act of Settlement of 1701. This means that the new princess will remain fourth in line to the throne regardless of whether or not her parents go on to have another son. It also grants the title of Princess to Charlotte, who otherwise would have only been referred to as Lady.

Elizabeth II has been on the throne for 63 years and she is only surpassed by Queen Victoria, who remained on the throne for 64 years. The British Royal Family belongs to the House of Windsor, but the throne has been occupied by several dynasties.

Athelstan is considered the first King of England as it was during his reign that the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were unified during the 10th century, giving rise to the Kingdom of England. In the early 11th century, England became part of the “North Sea Empire” of Cnut the Great, the King of Denmark. With the Norman Conquest, the kingdom became one of the territories ruled by the House of Anjou. The history of the kingdom of England from the Norman conquest of 1066 is conventionally divided into periods named after the ruling dynasty. The Norman dynasty survived until the House of Plantagenet came into the throne in 1154: the throne had been disputed by William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, Matilda and his cousin Stephen of Blois. It was eventually occupied by Matilda’s eldest son, who came to the throne as Henry II.

Richard II, the last of the Plantagenets, was forced to abdicate. The crown passed to two cadet branches of the House of Plantagenet: first the House of Lancaster and subsequently the House of York. The dynasty ended at last in 1485, when Richard III died. Both houses, Lancaster and York, fought in the War of the Roses, the civil war that covered England in blood in the 15th century. Both families pursued the throne of England as descendants of Edward III.

The War of the Roses ended when Richard III was defeated in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The final victory went to a claimant of the Lancastrian party, Henry Tudor, who married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter and heiress of Edward IV, thereby uniting the two houses. The House of Tudor ruled England and Wales until 1603, when Queen Elizabeth I died with no descendants. During the Tudors England emerged as a political and maritime power and it was during this period when England started its colonial expansion over the world.

Henry VIII

 Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I was succeeded by her nephew, King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. James came to the throne of England as James I and introduced the House of Stuart onto the English throne. The last of the Stuarts was Queen Anne, who became the first monarch of the newly merged Kingdom of Great Britain, uniting the crowns of England and Scotland. She died in 1714 leaving no direct descendants. She was succeeded by her distant relative George I (Anne’s closest living Protestant relative). George ascended the British throne as the first monarch of the House of Hanover, a German dynasty.

The House of Hanover was the dynasty ruling Great Britain when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was established on January 1, 1801 under the terms of the Act of Union. This house continued in the throne until 1901, when Queen Victoria died and was succeeded by his son Edward VII, belonging to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whose name was changed to Windsor in 1917 by King George V, during World War I. He decided to adopt an English name instead of the German origin of the previous one, as the United Kingdom was fighting Germany and there was an anti-German sentiment in the British Empire.

 Queen Elizabeth II, 1953

Would you be interested in getting to know more facts about the history of the British Monarchy? If so, please, let me know and I could write new articles on this matter. There are so many things to tell… For example, about the Tudor time. Or maybe, you want to see all these facts reflected on English literature (Shakespeare is a great example with all his plays on English Kings)… Just let me know and I’ll do my best to write on these issues in future posts.

Shakespeare - Henry V

Chocolate Brownies

Though a bit hectic, these last weeks have brought us many and promising changes. And to survive all this hustle I couldn’t think of anything better than to treat myself to something really good… and sweet. So I indulged myself and baked brownies, as I had been craving a really good brownie for quite a while. I know I am cheating again as brownies are not a British creation, but American. But I thought that, after all, the US are part of the anglosphere, and if the recipe is from an English chef I could allow myself to bring this recipe to you. DSC_5576 As I already did with my cheesecake, I got the recipe from Jamie Oliver as I knew it would work for me. The result was absolutely delicious: I have tried many brownies in my life as I am passionate about them and I can tell you that this is definitely one of the best. The trick is not to overcook the brownies and as all ovens are different, you’ll need to keep an eye on them. Just remember that chocolate firms up at room temperature, so it’s better to get them out of the oven when they are still a bit gooey (the cake tester or skewer shouldn’t come out clean), otherwise they would go hard and dry. DSC_5581 There are hundreds of brownie recipes and you should always choose the one you like best. There are brownies that require more yeast and they are more like a sponge cake, whereas there are others that use very little yeast so they are more similar to a fudge. The original recipe includes nuts (you can also use macadamias, pecans, walnuts or brazils), but you can also remove them. This recipe belongs to the second group, the brownies with less yeast and the fudgy texture. I also included nuts. Though I didn’t do it, I would recommend you to serve it with some ice cream, and if you like it you could also serve them warm. But the important thing is to get some good quality chocolate as it will make all the difference. DSC_5585 Ingredients:

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 200g best-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken up
  • 150g chopped nuts
  • 80g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 65g plain flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 350g caster sugar
  • 4 large free-range or organic eggs


  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Line a 30 x 20 cm (aprox.) rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. In a large bowl over some simmering water, melt the butter and the chocolate and mix until smooth.
  3. Add the nuts, if you’re using them, and stir together.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar, then add this to the chocolate and nut mixture. Stir together well.
  5. Beat the eggs and mix in until you have a silky consistency.
  6. Pour your brownie mix into the baking tray, and place in the oven for around 25 minutes.
  7. Remember, you don’t want to overcook them so, unlike cakes, you don’t want a skewer to come out all clean. The brownies should be slightly springy on the outside but still gooey in the middle.
  8. Allow to cool in the tray, then carefully transfer to a large chopping board and cut into squares.

DSC_5590 Recipe adapted from Cook with Jamie, by Jamie Oliver

My trip to London (second part)

Last Sunday, while we were watching the London Marathon on TV, I couldn’t stop thinking about our last trip to London, of which I haven’t told you everything yet. But, please, don’t think I’ve forgotten about it. Of course I haven’t! I have actually been editing the rest of the pictures and committed to my tumblr and instagram accounts, where you will be able to find more pictures. I know, I know! I am hung up on the photography for blogs world, which I find fascinating. I still have so much to learn…

But let’s get back to the point, that is, our trip… As you were able to read, the first two days we mostly hung around Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Southbank.


On the weekend, it was the markets’ turn. We felt like going to Portobello, which is one of the biggest antique markets in the world, and also one of the most famous markets in London. In addition to antiques, you will also be wondering around food, clothes and many other varied stalls. To get there we decided to take a walk first through Hyde Park, from where we headed to Notting Hill. Then we took Portobello Road, from which the market takes its name. We walked the whole street, up and down, until Ladbroke Grove. And we did buy, of course we did!



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In the afternoon we walked in the opposite direction, determined not to use any means of transport but our very own legs. There is nothing better than to walk, walk and walk around London. From Marble Arch we crossed along Oxford Street until we reached Oxford Circus. Then we walked around Carnaby Street and Chinatown. This was our unplanned itinerary. And this was also a soiree devoted to our friends living in London (it was so great to see you again!).

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We ended up crossing the Thames River one more time and we did the Southbank walk up to London Bridge once more. But this time it was at night and through the sights of the London lights. We had dinner at Bill’s Clink Street, and after that we walked back again up to Hyde Park, believe it or not. London is just such a magnificent scenery that it was worth wearing out our shoes and forget about our Oyster card.

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Sunday was cloudy and rainy, but we still decided to cross Hyde Park up to Hyde Park Corner.

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We discovered by chance Shepherd’s Market, a very pretty and picturesque small square with a variety of boutiques, restaurants and Victorian pubs. It is very close to Piccadilly Circus, in the heart of London’s Mayfair.

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From Piccadilly we went up Regent Street, one of my favourite streets in London, as it is one of the first places I went to the very first time I set foot in this city. I still remember the feeling: I was astonished by its impressive architecture.

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We had the typical Sunday brunch at Heddon Street Kitchen, one of Gordon Ramsay Group restaurants. I promise I will tell you about this experience very soon.


Some more shopping in Oxford Street… and back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and go back to the airport. We took the Heathrow Express from Paddington, which I hardly recommend as it makes the travel a lot shorter and quicker, but mainly thanks to the workers, because thanks to them, we were able to fly as we had left the bag which had our passports in, on the train! We are very forgetful, it’s true, but I think that what happened was that we wanted to remain in England. We are comforted with the idea of coming back soon as we always manage to find the perfect excuse to be back again.

This is how we were, in the moon!

My trip to London

I was just writing my blog entry on Easter in the UK when my computer suddenly shut down not to reboot again. Darn! I had to take it to be fixed and in the end what happened was that it was full of viruses. I have always been scared to clean off my hardrive. I’m not an expert in computing and always thought my computer would work forever. Obviously, this was not the case.

But this is not the reason I disappeared from the blog for a few weeks. I always try to keep positive on everything and something great came along. Quite suddenly J. and myself decided to go to London for a long weekend. So off we went. This was my first trip to the UK since I started with my Crazy for UK adventure, and it had to be London. Every time I go back to this magic city it feels like home. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and I believe this will compensate for not having published my entry on Easter.

I’m not a photographer, and I’m just learning now how to work the camera, but I believe the pictures are great anyway as London is just beautiful.

So I arrived in London on a Thursday in March and I started my walk on the North Bankside of the Thames River, just around Blackfriars, and this is what I saw until I reached Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. As you might see, I couldn’t stop staring at the London Eye: J. says that my index finger got heavy as I took so many pictures. Don’t worry, you won’t have to look at all of them as here you will only find a small selection, but there are more of them on my Tumblr and Instagram accounts.

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You might not believe it but I finally got to Big Ben. As a tour was just starting, I decided to go into Westminster Abbey as I had only been inside ages ago when my friend B. and I decided to join the Evensong. This actually happened one week before Lady Di died, but that’s quite a different story… Anyway, if you want to visit Westminster Abbey you will witness British History: this has been the traditional place of coronations and burial sites for British monarchs. Many other national figures are also buried or commemorated in Westmister Abbey.

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The Houses of Parliament can also be visited, but it was late for me so I decided to head off to Borough Market, just an hour before closing time.

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From Borough Market I took one of my favourite walks in London, the Southbank walk. Borough Market is a good place to start this walk (or finish it) : from the market you will walk along Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hinde II or Sir Francis Drake’s galleon, Clink Prison Museum, the Globe Theatre or the Tate Gallery, and that’s just until you reach the Millenium Bridge, where I decided to cross the river. But if you are lucky enough to be walking along the Southbank, you can also continue until you reach the Embankment bridge, from where the views of London Eye and Big Ben are magnificent, or even cross Westminster Bridge and just walk by both attractions.


When I was crossing the Millenium Bridge I just loved to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Shard, past and present coexisting, within the same eye span. And I fell in love again with St. Paul’s Cathedral, which at that particular time was already reflecting the light of the early evening. From St. Paul’s I walked Fleet Street back to the hotel as I had to get ready for dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant!!! Very soon I will tell you all about it.


On Friday my walk was a bit more hectic, as I just walked randomly without any established plan. I just wanted to go everywhere! I started my day in Temple Church, the church that appears in The Da Vinci Code. Then I walked again around St. Paul’s, where I found Shaun the sheep, had lunch near Leadenhall Market, and  walked again passing by Holborn, the Bristish Museum, Russell Square, the Bristish Library, coming back through Bloomsbury towards Covent Garden, which was as lively as usual.

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An Uncommon Reader, a novella by Alan Bennett

I believe I have never told you that I work in a library. Am I not lucky? I spend most of my days surrounded by books, so it was time for me to write about them.

I am going to make my debut on books with An Uncommon Reader, a novella by Alan Bennett. Why? It’s very simple: the main character is the Queen of England herself! Elizabeth II is the uncommon reader that one day, totally by chance, finds that a mobile library is parked near Buckingham Palace’s kitchens. Once there, she feels duty-bound to borrow a book: indeed her job is to show interest and that is what she does. This is how she meets Norman, the young kitchen helper, who was also in the library at the same time and will end up becoming her odd literary adviser; and this is also how the Queen discovers, amongst the library bookcases, the name of a writer she has actually met in person, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and that is precisely the book she borrows, thus embarking on her literary adventure. From Compton-Burnett she goes to Nancy Mitford, who she enjoys more, and from then she goes to the next book and so on she goes, until she’d rather spend her summer reading Proust than going hunting in Balmoral.

The Queen Elizabeth has discovered the pleasure that reading grants and this new passion alarms the palace staff. By reading, she finds out that she can live through books and literature and that her view of the world is changing dramatically, which is something that does not seem very convenient for the Queen of England. This new found love will soon lead to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

This brief and intelligently humorous novel is full of subtle doses of British humour. Alan Bennett gives shape to an extremely original story and a quite believable fiction, as, in the end, this is a story on the arousal of the joy on reading and its consequences. If you love reading as much as I do, I think you will be very fond of this book.

Downton Abbey

Every Downton Abbey fan (of course, I’m one of them) is waiting now for the sixth season of the series, that will not be shown until next Autumn on ITV. This period drama inmerses us in the life of an English mansion in the early 2oth century. But the plot does not only revolve around Lord Grantham and his family, the Crawleys, but also around the lives of the servants of the house. Thus, in Downtown Abbey we see what happens above and below stairs.

This Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning drama was a success from the very beginning as it managed to pulled in a media of 10 million viewers on the first season just in the UK. This success has spread everywhere as it has been sold to more than 200 territories including countries such as Finland, Poland and Albania. In Spain Downton became the most popular foreign programme to appear on Spanish television in five years.

Downton Abbey opens in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and from then on we are going to witness many other great events in history that not only have an effect on their lives, but also on the British social hierarchy. During the first season we are still in the Edwardian era; in the second one (1916-1919) we go through the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic and the Marconi scandal; the interwar period and the formation of the Irish Free State is what we see on the third series (1920-1921); the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series (1922-1923); and the United Kingdom general election of 1923, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Beer Hall Putsch in the fifth series (1924). We also see how the first telephones and electric appliances, the echoes of feminism and socialism and many other novelties and social changes arrive to Downton. Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Maggie Smith, is opposed to all these changes, but also his son Robert Crawley (Lord Grantham) and Carson, the butler.

From the first episode the plot revolves around who is going to be the heir of the house, the title and the fortune. The first heir dies in the sinking of the Titanic, and this is how the show begins. From then on Robert Crawley has to look for his heir, and he finds him in a distant male cousin, Mathew Crawley. But I will not tell you anything else as it is worth watching the show.

It is amazing to see how every single detail is so well taken care of. This detailed period setting could only be attained with a high budget: Downton needed one million pounds per episode, which made it the most expensive drama ITV has ever produced. This magnificent attention to detail is in every single item: for example, any letter addressed to a character has been written with the correct period ink and on the right paper. Even the sentiments, ideas and thoughts contained are fit for purpose, despite the fact that no one other than the actor will ever read it.

This great attention to detail is also present in the costumes. Every night the Crawleys get changed to wear formal dresses or suits for dinner.  The show has brought back a fervent interest in Edwardian and 20’s era fashion and beauty. And this is one of the most fascinating eras of the journey of fashion, as women’s role in society changed with the aftermath of the First World War. With more freedom and control women’s dresses and skirts became shorter and simpler. To top it all off, the bob hairstyle was introduced. We see Sybil wearing a trouser skirt and Mary surprises us by cutting her hair.

The house plays a very important role. Downton Abbey is in fact Highclere Castle. The fictional Downton is set in Yorkshire. In fact, Yorkshire media speculated with the general location of Downton Abbey estate to be somewhere in the area between the towns of Easingwood, Ripon and Thirsk, in North Yorkshire. However, Highclere Castle is in the South of England, in Hampshire. One of the best things of Highclere is that you can actually visit the castle. But that will not be possible until 2016 as all tickets for 2015 opening season have been sold out. If you are one of the lucky visitors you will be able to recognise many rooms from Downton Abbey. But you will not find the kitchens there as they were recreated at Ealing Studios, as the original Highclere kitchens were torn out.

Somehow, filming has returned Highclere to its heyday again. In 1906, a valet, a butler, 14 footmen, 25 housemaids, 25 gardeners, two chauffeurs and three chefs had worked there. These days, there are just nine full-time staff. But when the film crew arrived, the place was overrun once more.

Highclere Castle was the seat, 100 years ago, of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered, together with his archaeological colleague Howard Carter, the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, in 1922. This is why you can find an Egyptian Exhibition at Highclere. Highclere Castle has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679. The present house was built in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, who also built the Houses of Parliament in London. Nowadays Highclere is inhabited by the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, godson of Queen Elizabeth II, and Lady Fiona Carnarvon. Lady Fiona manages affairs at Highclere Castle, including overseeing its grounds and gardens and many other special events. Fascinated by Highclere’s history, Lady Carnarvon updates a blog on Highclere, but she has also written three books: the first two are about the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb with Howard Carter, and the third one covers the same period as the first two series of Downton Abbey, beginning in 1894 and continuing through the Great War.

Other notable location is Isobel Crawley’s house. Its outdoor scenes are filmed in the village of Bampton in Oxfordshire. They used the old rectory for exterior shots, whereas interior scenes correspond to Hall Place near Beaconsfield!!! I’m using these exclamation marks because I know Beaconsfield very well, as I have some friends there and I have visited them a few times.

Downton Abbey is written and produced by Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar in 2001 for Gosford Park, a drama on the English aristocracy set in 1932, where he also worked with Maggie Smith. The grounds for Downton Abbey were set in 2007, when Fellowes met with the television producer Gareth Neame. Their current project was an adaptation of Fellowes’ 2004 novel, Snobs. Neame had been unable to persuade anyone to fund it after two years of trying and he suggested Fellowes to consider returning to the world of Gosford Park. At the beginning Fellowes did not look very pleased with the idea, but fate played its part. At the time, Fellowes was reading a book called To Marry an English Lord, about American girls who had travelled to England in the late 19th century and married into the English aristocracy. Fellowes could not stop thinking that it must have been wonderful for those girls at the beginning, but what happened 25 years later when they were freezing in a cold English house aching for their birthplace? And that was how everything started. Some weeks later Fellowes started to write Downton Abbey, which tells us about Lord and Lady Grantham, who are the bedrock of the Crawley family. As the heir to the Downton Abbey estate, Robert Crawley married Cora Levinson, a young forward-thinking American. After years of marriage, the pair now happily presides over Downton in partnership.

What will happen next in Downton Abbey? Many rumours say that the sixth season will be the last.

Sweet Onion Relish for Your Ploughman’s Lunch

The British love their pubs as they are not only a place to drink alcoholic beverages, they are very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities. Pubs have also a long tradition of serving food but lately, they are also going through a renaissance all over the country, with food of a higher standard and better appeal. And one of the most famous pub grubs is the Ploughman’s Lunch. I still remember the first time I tried it in a pub (I can’t recall the name, sorry) in Windermere, in the Lake District. From then on, I have ordered a Ploughman’s Lunch whenever I have had the chance.

The Porch House pub, in Stow On The Wold (Cotswolds).

A Ploughman’s Lunch is a lunch packed for a ploughman to take with him into the fields for his lunch. A basic Ploughman’s consists of crusty bread, a good lump of local cheese, pickled onions and chutney or relish. This combination may vary considerably and it may also be embellished with a selection of cold meats, ham, maybe a slice of pate and/or slice of pork pie, even a scotch egg. Sometimes, it also includes seasonal fruits such as apples or grapes. Traditionally, the bread, cheese and pickles were home-made by the ploughman’s wife. The drink that accompanies this lunch is, of course, a pint of the local beer or cider.

There is a little controversy on the origin of this traditional cold meal, as there are not any historical records. Ploughmen have been eating bread and cheese with beer for aeons, but the term “Ploughman’s Lunch” was not coined until the 1960’s, when the Milk Marketing Board were trying to sell cheese in British pubs.

We love to prepare this meal at home. There is always cheese in our pantry, and cheddar is a regular in our kitchen. Nowadays it is very easy to find a good quality cheddar in Spanish supermarkets. We have also tried Ploughman’s with other cheeses, as I think that what it is important is that it is good quality and that you choose the one you like.

Chutney is more difficult to find here and I believe that it is not optional as it boosts the meal and makes it something more than bread and cheese. In big supermarkets it is possible to find Branston Pickle for those who do not live in Britain.

As you can imagine, I prefer to make my own relish (please find below my recipe). But are you clear about the difference between pickles, chutneys and relishes? I have always been confused on this. Branston Pickle is actually a relish!

Pickles are preserved in vinegar and assorted spices. They do not need to be cooked for as long as chutneys, with the exception of fruit pickles, where the fruit is heated gently to allow it to absorb the spices and the vinegar. Pickles are usually based around one vegetable or one fruit only. Vegetables used for pickling are first soaked in brine (salt and water solution) for up to 48 hours. This procedure removes the excess moisture in the vegetables and helps them to stay crisp. It also prevents the development of bad bacteria. After the salting process, the vegetables must be rinsed clean in cold water and well drained before being coated in vinegar.

Relish is a very versatile preserve as it can be used with lots of dishes. Relishes use vinegar and spices, like chutney and pickles, although the finished texture is a lot different. Relishes are usually only made of chopped vegetables (not fruit) and they do not require to be cooked as long as chutneys. The ingredients keep their shape.

Chutneys are made from chopped fruits and/or vegetables which are mixed with spices, vinegar and other ingredients, and then reduced to a smooth pulp. They come from India and this is why many chutneys can be very spicy. The word chutney derives from the Indian word chatni, which means pickle. Chutneys require long and slow cooking as this is the only way to get their smooth texture. Ideally they should not be consumed inmediately as they improve over time and they should be left to mature for 3-6 months.

When making these preserves you should always use stainless steel pans rather than iron or brass pans, as the vinegar, which is very acidic, reacts with these and will give the pickles a metallic taste. If the ingredients need to be strained, use nylon sieves. On the other hand, you should use sterilised jars (kilner jars are highly recommended).

And this is finally my recipe, Sweet Onion Relish.


  • 1.5 kg sweet onions, finely chopped
  • 700g red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, washed, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup / 65g sea salt
  • 1 cup / 200g granulated sugar
  • 1 cup / 220g light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 cups / 450ml cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp mixed pickling spices
  • glass preserving jars, sterilized


  1. Combine the chopped onions and bell peppers with the salt. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes.
  2. Then, drain the vegetables in a sieve, squeezing gently.
  3. In a large stainless steel pot, combine the sugars, turmeric and vinegar.
  4. Put pickling spices in a muslin bag and add to the vinegar and sugar mixture.
  5. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the well drained vegetable mixture, increase heat to medium.
  7. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium low. Then simmer for 30-50 minutes.
  8. Fill the sterilized jars and close the lids firmly.

This is the final result. The picture is not very good, sorry, but I promise I will learn how to take better shots in the future. But I will tell you that even though you cannot appreaciate it from the picture, this relish is absolutely delicious.

Recipe adapted from Jams, Chutneys, Pickles Preserves. Pr Books Limited.

The Imitation Game

Last Sunday the Oscars 2015 were awarded, so this week I had no other choice than to write about a film, precisely the film awarded with the Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. You should not miss The Imitation Game, a British film set Britain during World War II. The film tells a real story that catches you from the beginning until the end, and mainly if you like everything British as much as I do.

I will try to write about this outstanding film without telling you too many things about the plot. Let me see if I can manage it. The Imitation Game is Alan Turing’s story. He was a prestigious mathematician, logician and cryptanalist who was also considered as the father of the modern computing science. The film portrays brilliantly Turing’s character and tells us three important moments of his life. It begins in 1952, when Turing is arrested on charges of “gross indecency”, as he was a homosexual, putting an end to his career. It also moves through Turing’s adolescence when he was studying at Sherborne School, Dorset, when he developed a close relationship with an older fellow student, Christopher Morcom, Turing’s first love. But The Imitation Game mainly focuses during the time of World War II, when Alan Turing lead a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers whose objective was to crack the secret codes of Germany’s Enigma machine, which was crucial to winning the war.

This is the sort of film in which the British are the finest. Its extraordinary attention to period detail is deeply moving. The well cared setting carries us to Bletchley Park, once Britain’s best kept secret, Churchill’s Secret Intelligence and Computers Headquarters, where Alan Turing and his team worked in cracking the German Enigma code.

Bletchley Park

The film was shot over a period of eight weeks. In addition to Bletchley Park, The Imitation Game was also filmed in London, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Dorset, including a Victorian house which came to be Ian Fleming’s house, a RAF base no longer in use, King’s Cross station, and Sherborne School, where young Turing studied, with some interiors filmed in some studios located in Middlesex.

The cast is also magnificent. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing, is the star and soul of the film. He is an actor who is particularly good at giving the impression of thinking, as it is also the case with Sherlock Holmes, a role that made Cumberbatch very popular. His performance in The Imitation Game has been universally praised. Although he did not win the Oscar, his performance was still brilliant. He shared the cast with Kiera Knightley as Joan Clarke, Mathew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Allen Leech. The director is the Norwegian Morten Tyldum.

The Imitation Game is a moving film that does not leave you indifferent. Turing, as Cumberbatch himself says, should be on banknotes, as he was a hero and one of the best scientists. However, Alan Turing is far from being a celebrity and his story is practically unknown. This film serves as a fair tribute to his memory.

If you liked this story and you want to go into more detail about it, you can read either Alan Turing’s biography by Andrew Hodges, on whose book The Imitation Game is based, or Enigma by Robert Harris.

Jamie Oliver’s Cheesecake

Today, I have decided to make this cheesecake recipe, which is not British but from New York. But it is Jamie Oliver’s version of this classic dessert, and as he is my favourite English chef, I believe that this counts, don’t you think? I love Jamie’s recipes and I love Jamie’s style as he makes everything look so easy. Each of Jamie’s recipes I have tried has worked, but that has not always been the case for me as I am not an experienced cook (please, don’t tell anyone), just a bit cheeky when sharing my cooking adventures with you.

This is also my husband’s favourite dessert so I had to give it a chance, instead of trying with a more traditional Bristish cake. On the other hand, I had my suspicions on the origins of the cheesecake as there are many different kinds of cheesecakes all over Europe and I am sure that the British must have contributed to the recipe. I have made my little research on the history of the cheesecake and I will tell you what I have discovered.

It seems that the first “cheese cake” may have been created by the Greeks. Anthropologists have excavated cheese molds on the Greek island of Samos which were dated circa 2,000 B.C. It was considered to be a good source of energy and it was also used as a wedding cake by Greek brides and grooms. Flour, honey and cheese were formed into a cake and then baked. When the Romans conquered Greece, they took the cheesecake recipe and, as they expanded their empire, they brought the cheesecake recipe all over Europe. The recipe took many different forms depending on the country where it was baked.

Great Britain also experimented with the cheesecake recipe. Even Henry VIII’s chef did his part when he cut up cheese into very small pieces and soaked them in milk for three hours. Then, he strained the mixture and added eggs, butter and sugar. In the 18th century beaten eggs started to be used instead of yeast to make the cakes rise. It was this recipe the one that Europeans brought to America. Cream cheese was the American contribution to the cake.

There are many cheesecake recipes. I chose this one as it is Jamie Oliver’s… Sorry, I had already said that before, hadn’t I ? Besides, it does not require the use of double cream, which sometimes is a bit difficult to find in the Spanish supermarkets. I’ll let you have a look to the original recipe, as I didn’t change many things. I only reduced the amount of digestive biscuits to 250 g instead of  350 g and used granulated sugar for the cheesecake and icing sugar for the meringue topping, instead of caster sugar (caster sugar is not common here either). I also did not use the proper cake tin (mine was 26cm intead of 24cm) which is something that it should not be done when baking. But it turned out fine.

This is the result. It looks nice but it tastes much better. Absolutely delicious !!!