Hoi An: what to eat & drink (and see in between)

 1. Hoi An market

Rise early and immerse yourself in Hoi An life at the local market. Marvel as noodles are stretched, fish is gutted and carcases, perched precariously on the back of bikes, wobble past. From jack fruit and durian to dragon fruit and morning glory, the choice is endless. My number one spot for people watching and seeing life float by.


 2. An Bang Beach

Grab a bicycle (free from most hotels and home stays) and weave the couple of miles past thirsty bison, paddy fields and farmland to An Bang Beach. Park up at a cafe who’ll watch your bike for a few pence (and throw in a much needed free bottle of water), then admire the view. Fishermen in coracles battle the ferocious waves while barman tout for your trade. 


 3. White Rose Dumplings 

Take a pew and watch the beautifully talented ladies at Bong Hong Trang make Hoi An signature the white rose dumpling. Delicious with a cold local beer to cut through the pork, shrimp and salty fish sauce. Apparently it’s one of only two restaurants which knows the secret recipe and make the delicacy for hundreds of others across the town. 


 4. Morning Glory

Morning Glory is on the pricy side for Vietnam, but worth the cash for some top-notch food and a lovely, air conned restaurant. Brave the queues and you’ll be rewarded with Hoi An sausage, stir-fried morning glory, fresh Vietnamese salads and flavourful noodle soups. A treat. 


 5. Hoi An Eco Coconut Tour

Take home a little of Hoi An by joining an eco tour and learning how to rustle up some of the region’s classic dishes. Starting at the market to gather fresh produce, the tour then floats down Thu Bon River, watching fishermen haul in their catch. Next stop’s a coracle, paddling through the mangroves to the cookery school. Their super talented chefs will guide you through some of Vietnam’s classics – fresh spring rolls, papaya salad and pork in a clay pot – giving you all the tools you need to whip up a storm back home.


 6. Get a suit made

No visit to Hoi An is complete without a trip to the tailor. Bring a photo of what you want, then watch as the experts get to work with their measuring tapes, helping you choose fabrics and recommending the best cut. Leave a couple of days for your suit to be turned round and choose your tailor carefully. We used Bill and Ben who were friendly, efficient and fair.  

 7. My Son 

Bump by bus to the My Son, the 70+ Cham temples situated in the lush jungle valley an hour of so from Hoi An. Marvel at the beautiful, crumbling architecture and learn how the site was destroyed in the Vietnam War. A real highlight, especially if you choose to float back by boat down the river and back to town.


 8. Banh Mi Phuong

This cracking bann mi café just outside the old town was made famous by Anthony Bourdain when it featured on No Reservations. Fresh, crusty bread, tender pork with crisp salad and spicy sauce make this a winner. We grabbed plain, freshly baked banh mi from their baker next door a couple of times too. Just perfect.

Chicago: what to eat & drink (and see in between)

1. Eatlaly
What’s not to love about a two floor department store dedicated to fine foods and fresh produce? Couple that with the fact you can enjoy a glass of wine while perusing the store, and it’s the ultimate foodie paradise. Watch beer being brewed, mozzarella being made, bakers in action, or just sit back and relax with a freshly made bowl of pasta. It’s a winner. 

2. Baptiste & Bottle
Ok, it’s a hotel bar. But Baptiste & Bottle in The Conrad hotel is definitely a pretty one. Specialising in bourbon, it has a fantastic cocktail list and one of the most beautiful drinks trollies I’ve ever seen. A little haven just off Magnificent Mile. 

3. Giordano’s

Home to the iconic deep dish pizza Giordano’s is a city stalwart. The chin has been rustling up deep dish, stuffed crust pizzas since 1974 – and now boasts 50 stores nationwide. Rich, dense, gooey and not short of cheese, these pizzas aren’t necessarily to my taste, but an experience none the less. 

4. The 606

Walk the 606, a three mile disused freight track from Wicker Park to Logan Square. Chicago’s answer to NYC’s High Line has been spruced up with lush plants and is now a haven for joggers, cyclists and walkers. Keep your eyes peeled for graffiti and amazing warehouse spaces, and leave plenty of time to enjoy the bars and galleries around Logan Square. 

5. Elly’s Pancake House
A stone’s throw from the entrance to Lincoln Park, Elly’s Pancake House serves up all the iconic US staples – buttermilk pancakes, eggs, bottomless coffee, and juice. It’s a 24 hour diner with a touch of class and charming service, that even in The States, goes over and above. 

6. Little Goat Diner 
Brave the queues at Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat Diner and be rewarded with a meal to remember. If you’re lucky, land a table at the counter and watch the chefs at work. The more casual little sister of Girl & The Goat serves everything from breakfast – Cereal Killers, love it! – to burgers, Bhan Mi, shrimp and cheese grits and mac & cheese. The fish tostada was spot on.

7. Architecture Tour

Take to the waters and discover the history behind some of Chicago – and America’s – most iconic buildings. Learn how they turned the direction of the river, more about the Gothic Chicago Tribune building, Trump’s brash tower, The Wriggly Building and the river’s 68 bridges. This 90 minute cruise is run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and is worth every penny. Watch out for imitations.  

8. Big Star Diner
Mexican street food, margaritas and local beers rule the roost at hipster hang out Big Star Diner. Housed in an old 1940s gas station in Wicker Park this was some of the best – and cheapest – food I ate in Chicago. Try the simple but delicious taco de papas con rajas, washed down with a cold, local beer. Amazing flavours and chilled vibes. 

9. Three Dots and a Dash
Dive down the dark stairs past an eerie wall of skulls into this lively tiki bar – one of the World’s finest according to The World’s 50 Best Bars. Hawaiian shirt clad bar tenders shake up first class cocktails. While happy punters sup the through elaborate garnish and garish straws. The lively atmosphere is sure to make anyone leave happy.

10. The Street Art
It seems wherever you look in the city there’s art. From Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean) in Millennium Park and Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s The Crown – a video wall come fountain which draws the crowds. To the huge, eye catching Lincoln statue and graffiti just about everywhere you look. Grab your trainers, open your eyes and go for a stroll. 

Lisbon: what to eat & drink and see in between 


1. Stroll Lisbon to Belem

Join the runners and cyclists and wander the 10ish k from Cais do Sodre to Belem. Pass graffiti, waterside restaurants and the marina before you reach the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and the gateway to Belem. Here, the crowd thickens out as you pass the striking new Maat sculpture and head towards Belem Tower. 


2. LX Factory

A slight walk out of town this old factory complex is packed full of quirky shops, market stalls and bars. Watch life unfold from the window of Wish Slow Coffee House, or check out the graffiti adorning the old factory walls.


3. Enoteca De Belem

This new pop up from Enoteca De Belem offers an intimate three courses menu complete with matched wines and coffee. Take a seat at the communal table and tuck in next to Belem’s businessmen, tourists and foodie travellers. The service is top notch. A steal at €33. 


4. Pensao Amore

This brothel turned bar just above red street feels both opulent and run down. The ornate, false ceiling cuts a dash, and the pictures and antiques are nothing sort of intriguing. Visit the toilets…


5. Bairro Do Avillez

Lisbon’s Michelin star chef Jose Avillez has created a foodie paradise at Barrio Do Avillez. With two restaurants, a market and a secret bar, it describes itself as an ‘entire universe devoted to creativity and to the best Portuguese flavour’. Whatever, worth a peek for the food and creative ceiling adorned with dangling ceramic fried eggs, broccoli and a host of other meats and veg. 


6. Kiosk Bar

Grab a take away from the local bottle shop, or splash out a couple of Euro on a glass of wine and take a pew at sunset. Bands belt out tunes to a chilled, appreciative crowd while people drink, dance, chill and watch the word go by. 


7. A Cevichieria

Queue for a table with the locals propped up outside with a cold, crisp glass of white. Then, when your turn comes, sit under the giant fibreglass octopus (striking, rather than tacky) and dig into tapas style plates of fresh fish that pack a punch. 


8. Time Out Market 

Stall upon stall of restaurants now pack Lisbon’s old fruit and veg market. Opened in 1994 by the Time Out Portugal team, the building in itself is a beauty. Place your order, grab a buzzer then enjoy burgers, artisan pizza or platters piled high with local meat and cheese from the 28 restaurants and eight bars. 

Holy Phok, Hove

Visiting fresh-ish off the boat (ok, plane) from Vietnam, Holy Phok on Hove’s Landsdown Place had a lot to live up to.

I’d dismissed it when it first opened. Its home has been a string of unsuccessful openings since I moved to the city something over a decade ago. But a rumbling of positive reviews and a packed restaurant each time I passed tempted me in. 

We were – just – squeezed in sans reservation on a Wednesday evening, which was a good sign. 

From the get go, the service was slick and friendly. And the atmosphere buzzy. 

The Better Than Squid – meaty oyster mushrooms marinated in turmeric and garlic, then deep fried – was a great start to the meal. Hot, crispy and while I wouldn’t say better, a damn fine equal to squid. The sesame crackers with Vesto (aka coriander, garlic, roasted peanuts and chili dip) were also a winner. 

We followed with large, pillowy steamed pork buns and a fishy alternative – Hanoi Hannah. While tasty, they were probably on the large side but the herby slaw and zingy flavours were good. 

Holy Phok takes sourcing and CSR a step further. Along with locally reared meat, it boasts a menu packed with herbs grown at a local social enterprise farm, Roots to Growth. 

While it might not be a carbon copy of Vietnam’s fare, and some of the dishes were slightly on the large side, this is a fun, friendly spot for dinner with decent food to boot. 

Bologna: what to eat & drink (and see in between)

I’ve got a lot of fond memories of Italy and its food. Waiting to hear my exam results clutching a melting ice cream on the promenade at Lido de Jesolo. Careering precariously round the mountain roads from San Gimignano in the back of a restaurateur’s car to try and catch (and hoping we’d live to make) the last train back to Florence – one more course isn’t always a good idea. And being treated like family by a tomato farmer, joining a feast with workers to celebrate the harvest at the end of a film shoot.

But Bologna holds a special place in my heart – or possibly stomach… Here’s my list of what to eat & drink (and see in between) in the city.


1 Le Stanze. Right in the heart of the student quarter, Le Stanze is a 16th-century church, apparently once the private chapel of the Palazzo Bentivoglio. While we didn’t think too much of the apreativo, the bar staff were friendly, the drinks well made and there aren’t many other places you can enjoy a tipple while admiring a beautiful painted fresco from 17-something.


2 Le Due Totti. The two towers – Garisenda and Asinelli – are the face of Bologna. Clatter up to the top of Asinelli for about €3 and admire the red rooftops sprawling out below.

3 Sorbetteria La Castiglione. Quite possibly the best ice cream shop in the world (or at least Italy). Peruse the hundreds of flavours – the stracciatella is particularly tasty – then take a stroll up to enjoy your cone of choice in the lush gardens of nearby Giardini Regina Margherita where there are hundreds of turtles swimming in the pond. Top tip – get in there quick on Sundays when Italian grannies are buying by the bucket load for family lunch.

4 Promenade the porticos. You can’t miss Bologna’s porticos – 40k+ of covered walkways protecting its residents from the beating sun. Nothing beats an aimless stroll, passing churches and chapels, lively bars and great, huge ominous doorways. Look out for the graffiti and beautiful old signs. And stop along the way for coffee and wine.

5 Simoni Bologna. A stones throw from Piazza Maggiore is Simoni Bologna – the smartest looking of the joints on Via Drapperie serving mouthwatering platters stacked high with regional meats and cheese. Throw in some chilled local wines and you’ve got the perfect spot to watch the world go by. And bag a rich, crumbling hunk of Parmesan to take home.

6 Trattoria Gianni. For rough versions of the classics, try Trattoria Gianni on Via Clavature. Smart waiting staff serve spot on pasta, which you can enjoy surrounded by a mix of Italian families and hungry travellers.

  

Six Degrees North, Aberdeen

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, is having quite a craft beer resurgence. Sales are up significantly, and at last count, there were 75 craft breweries smattered across the country. For a corner of the UK with a population of 5.3 million, that’s not bad going in my book.

While indie outfit BrewDog might shout the loudest – a brewery crowd-funded by its ‘Equity Punks’ and at least one headline grabbing beer a quarter – there are other equally interesting operators worth investigation.

So with an hour to kill in Aberdeen, we checked out Stonehaven-based brewer Six Degrees North, so-called as it sits six degrees north of Belgium.
Dubbing itself the Belgian brewer of Scotland, Six Degrees North boast its own brew 6°n, with variations like Scotch, Hop Classic and Hopocrisy, to name a few, as well as a staggering choice of 300+ bottled beers.

A traditional Belgium brewing processes is used while ‘pushing the boundaries’, according to its founders. In their Littlejohn Street premises, simple, tasty sandwiches and platters add to the experience.

A stripped back interior, low lighting and amiable staff make this a great place to sit back, relax and work your way through the menu.

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Hare & Hounds, Brighton

Billing itself as Brighton’s first ‘brewery fresh pub’, The Hare and Hounds on London Road is a fine mix of craft beer and Mexican street food.

The once grubby boozer has made itself over in to the sort of destination that’s attractive to almost anyone. Tattooed trendies sit next to London Road locals, white haired couples rub shoulders with kids on first dates, and young dads with prams take refuge in the corners.

Meantime takes centre stage with two tanks piping fresh, unfiltered beer direct into punters’ glasses. I’m sold on that. But there’s also Brew Dog, local favourite Dark Star, a whole menu of ‘craft on draught’ and bottled beer specials.

The food’s a focal point too, with Brighton Mexican La Choza serving tostadas, tacos and burritos bursting with pit-smoked pulled pork, slow cooked beef or catch of the day. Tasty.

Throw in a decent sized beer garden, a punchy playlist and pleasant staff and it’s no wonder this place has built up such a following since its launch earlier in the year.
P
Hare and Hounds, 75 London Road, Brighton
http://www.hareandhoundsbrighton.com

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A Wong, London

Hidden among Mexican restaurants, sandwich shops and supermarkets on a slightly undesirable side street next to Victoria, A Wong is an unusually placed rising star.

But rising star it is. And quite rightly so. Young chef Andrew took over what used to be his dad’s restaurant Kym’s at the end of last year, made it over, and reopened under his own name.

Some lukewarm, then some rave reviews have followed from the likes of Giles Coren, Marina O’Loughlin and Fay Maschler. But what’s important is that the punters love it and the simple dining room was packed to the rafters when we visited on a Tuesday evening.

In fact, we were initially offered the last table – a seat at the bar looking into the bustling open kitchen. But a cancellation landed us a table and a more relaxing seat to enjoy a flavoursome feast that kicked off a super-sized prawn cracker.

A Wong is famed for its tasting menu. A reasonable priced affair at £38.88 for eight courses that takes in dim sum, poached Scottish razor clam with sea cucumber and Beijing yoghurt.

There’s also a well priced set menu. Just short of £15 for a starter and main from a small selection of the restaurant’s favourites, including a drink. A good deal.

But we ordered a la carte. Starting with piping hot, oversized mushroom, bamboo and vermicelli spring rolls before diving in to some superb main courses.

The winner by far had to be the side of Sichuanese aubergine – strong, spicy and incredibly moreish. Rice was light and fluffy, and the chicken dishes – heavily spiced, and moreish – flew off the plate. The pudding – a crumble finished with salty, soy caramel, will definitely be ordered again.

The dishes were beautifully presented and perfectly priced. Slightly slow service was made up for by charm, enthusiasm and an obvious desire to ensure each table enjoyed their visit.

I’ll certainly be back to try the poached Scottish razor clam with sea cucumber.

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