Duck and Waffling

I’ve been thoroughly spoilt for my birthday, with A buying me my coveted 45mm lens for the perfect blurry background. I ran around the flat taking photos of everything in excitement, how sad am I?!

My new lens had its first proper outing when we headed out to Duck and Waffle. I’ve been wanting to try their menu for years, but we just hadn’t got round to it until now. It’s a meat-heavy post so veggies look away now!

Getting to Duck and Waffle for the lunch hour rush involved dodging many a suited-and-booted city worker dressed head to toe in black or grey. We went through the wrong entrance, got redirected by a security guard, then finally found ourselves whizzing up the speedy glass lift to what felt like the top of the world.

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The food and the ambience in Duck and Waffle were pretty special. It’s pricey – we paid £50 a head for a substantial meal, and two non-alcoholic drinks. For a special occasion, definitely worth it, but certainly not a weekly affair!

Crispy pig ears to start off with, smoky with paprika, and absolutely delicious.

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Then juicy bacon wrapped dates followed next, with a mustardy sauce for dipping. We had some spicy n’duja and gruyere bread on the side with this.

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Then came the small plates of oxtail doughnut and foie gras creme brulée. The doughnut was an interesting combination of sweet and savoury.

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Cut through to reveal the interior…

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The foie gras brulée looked incredible, and I really wanted to love it, but it was just too rich for me, so that one was happily polished off by A.

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Finally, the famous duck and waffle, with a side of beautifully cooked broccoli. Truly the star of the show, the duck glisteningly crispy, the duck egg golden-yolked and perfectly runny. This was a dish we really consumed with glee.

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Side note – nail colour is Essie’s Watermelon. My latest favourite – just loving bright colours again as we are heading towards Spring again.

So, after all that food, we really needed to walk it off, so went for a long stroll along the river, giving the tums a bit of a much needed rest, before heading down to catch the train back out of London.

It’s feels like such a treat so save up special occasions like this, and I would definitely recommend Duck and Waffle for occasions where you want good food, a central location, great views and don’t mind splashing out a bit more than normal. The other such place I have had my eye on for some time is the afternoon tea at Sketch, so that will probably be my next treat destination… perhaps this time again next year!

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The Best of 2015

I think I’ve gone for a year of familiar favourites in 2015. Perhaps I didn’t quite get round to making any of the things I thought I would at the end of 2014, but it was a no less satisfying year of baking for it.

This really was the year of the Sponge Cake. I baked numerous incarnations of them, and thoroughly enjoyed each one.

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Copious quantities of cream and fruit are excellent accompaniments.

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Then for something involving all the same ingredients, but a little more biscuity, these elegant (albeit enormous) viennese whirls.

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A’s favourite recipe of the year were these jammy crumble bars. Apparently they make excellent cycling fodder.

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Lastly, who could forget the glistening glories of these salted caramel brownies? More fudge than brownie, more gooey than solid, more chocolate than cake…I wonder if these will make a repeat showing in 2016?

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Here’s to a healthy, happy 2016. I can’t promise to bake and blog as much as I have in the past as sadly real life is annoyingly getting in the way, but I’ll do my best. Things to look out for? I’ve got a bag of linseeds and chia seeds that are going to be going out of date by the end of the year, so perhaps I need to get my butt into gear and use them up? Chia seed cookies? Anyone? Anyone???

No, okay.

Getting Cosy for Christmas

The days are short, and the nights long. Cosy is the word of the month, and great is the temptation to run amok in Anthropologie and festoon the flat with beautifully crafted garlands, kitsch tree decorations, and gloriously fragrant candles, thick with spiced and vanilla scents.

Sorry it’s been a little quieter around here on the blog over the last few weeks. I’ve been catching up with some much needed sleep, and lusting after incredibly inappropriate purple feather jackets. Clearly been watching a little too much Made in Chelsea!

I’ve already started bejazzling up the flat, and having great fun in the process too.  Despite the temptation to run around spending the entirety of my November paycheck, I’ve managed to hold the reins back.

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This string of minature baubles is knotted onto some jute string (comes with the packaging). It cost me £2 in total, and I think it looks very colourful and snazzy! Then, some jazzy string lights (from Tiger again) for the stairs.

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I also made some felt snowflakes for the windows, but they look ridiculously juvenile, like a three year old cut them out, so I’ll spare your eyes from them.

Soon time to find a tree, and then I’ll have an insanely fun time decorating it with the leftover baubles, and see what else I buy/concot/bake! Although I’m going to struggle with baking biscuits in my current oven, so we shall see what happens.

I can’t wait to open my advent calendar. We decided not to go for chocolate advent calendars this year (due to some misguided attempt at being ‘healthier’) so A kindly gifted me this fab looking Jonny Loves Rosie jewellery version!

Liebster Award

Before I forget too, many thanks to Jo for nominating me for a Liebster Award! I have seen it do the rounds before in the past, but I have to confess I never quite mustered up participating in the past! Here we go:

  1. I am a crisp fiend. Give me a family-sized bag and I will demolish it faster than you can say “salt-and-vingear.”
  2. Even though I’m supposed to be mature and grown-up I still love my soft toys. My boyfriend is resigned to the fact that he has to share his bed with not just me, but three other cuddly, furry friends.
  3. I have run three half-marathons, and now signed up for my fourth! Great way to burn off all the cakes.
  4. My fave season of the year is spring, followed closely by summer. I try and get in the mood for autumn but it just reminds me Winter is Coming …
  5. I was such a girly-girl that I didn’t own a pair of trousers until I was ten, and even then my parents had to cajole me to wear them.
  6. I just love watching Barefoot Contessa. From Ina Garten’s random friends popping by, to the table centrepieces of toy trains/DIY tools, the salads that are more cream and mayonnaise than vegetable, and of course, Ina being loved up with hubby Jeffrey, it’s hilarious.
  7. I am so bad at Guitar Hero I can’t even complete a song on the most basic level. E-musician, I am not.
  8. I did have piano lessons for 12 years though, so somebody tried.
  9. I’m a milk chocolate girl. Dark chocolate is alright, but when you get a chocolate-coated digestive biscuit, it’s milk chocolate all the way baby.
  10. My guilty pleasure is watching serial runs of Made in Chelsea in my pyjamas, surrounded by soft toys.
  11. I hate milk (probably as a consequence of being force-fed those horrid warm milk cartons at school) but butter, cream, cheese…no problems at all.

So now I get to nominate some other lovely bloggers.

Baking Stuff, Mostly Averagely: B’s writing never fails to make me laugh, and the recipes look both delicious and do-able.

The Very Hungry Baker: plenty of delicious looking bakes, especially the epic looking pizza pie!

Running Cupcake: Maria writes about running and baking. What a great balance!

A Bite of Barcelona

I went for a minibreak in Barcelona earlier this month, and wow, the food alone was a good enough reason for visiting. It never went wrong.

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I had booked an impulse holiday after being curled up under my duvet, tired after work, feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t even know why I picked Barcelona. I hadn’t planned on visiting, and on checking the weather forecast before we left, I was disappointed to see that rain, rain, and more rain were looking likely.

However, things were looking up as the plane pulled into Barcelona airport to blue and sunny skies. A balmy 25˚C, the beach was thronged with the tanned and happily wearing shorts instead of coats.

We started out with the best burgers you could have imagined, they even rivalled my London fave Patty and Bun. Not very Spanish, but cheap and cheerful, and oh so dirty.

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Then a trip to the famous La Boqueria market, full of possibly everything you could ever imagine eating, as well as a lot you possibly never could!

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Then the finale to the trip was the most memorable meal at La Estrella, a nondescript bistro serving the most beautifully cooked plates of food, all made with seasonal and local ingredients. DSC_0980The calamari was perfectly cooked, and not in the slightest bit chewy as can sometimes be the risk.

DSC_0984The duck dish was fabulous – the contrast in textures and flavours was spot on. Then a classic dessert to finish, a tarte tatin, beautifully caramelised apples in a sea of cream. 
DSC_0987Then in between all this, plenty of meandering through the streets of the old town, munching on chocolate-filled xuxo, a delicious doughnut-like confection. We found some time to fit in a bit of culture too – visiting La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, which was truly stunning to behold, then the Picasso museum and the museum exhibiting the history of ancient Barcelona.
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The only disappointment on this trip was the hotel I booked. I found a deal online, and rashly booked it without consulting the previous reviews. Let’s say it offered great views of Barcelona, but not much else.

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So for a short holiday away,to get the tastebuds tingling and the mind refreshed, this was a trip that did not fail to impress.

Crème Fraîche Cake

Crème fraîche is great stuff for baking. Luxurious, a little tangy, and what’s more, it’s got a lovely long shelf life! When I went on my slightly wild Waitrose shopping spree, I picked up a tub with no idea what on earth I was going to do with it when I got home. Fill a cake with it? Mix it into some chocolate for a tangy ganache?

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Nah none of the above. I baked cake with it. When downers come along, flowers and cake always help ameliorate some of that bad feeling.

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I’ve gotten more than a little flower-happy. Last time it was red peonies, but then I saw some pink ones in bud, as well as some fragrant hyacinths, and guess what – bought both. Both are beautiful.

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I still can’t believe somebody from work stole my cake tin! I didn’t have a particularly strong sentimental attachment to it, but it was cheerful, and the best receptacle I had for storing cakes. Not to mention, who would want to steal a cake tin when you’ve gone to all the effort of taking homemade cake into work for everybody?

Anyway, back to this crème fraîche cake which was absolutely delicious.

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I sat on my bed in my pyjamas, all my cookbooks spread about me, and searched for recipes containing crème fraîche (surely it’s not just me that does this, by the way?!). Then, browsing online, I was inspired by a weekend cake on Fanny’s wonderful blog Like a Strawberry Milk. Originally, I intended on whisking together some crème fraîche and double cream, and sandwiching the cake with this as well as some jam. However, it was so good plain I didn’t bother with any extra adornment.

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Moist, tangy, and beautifully fluffy, it’s a great combination.

Crème Fraîche Cake

Adapted from Like a Strawberry Milk

  • 4 eggs
  • 250g sugar (I used a mixture of golden caster sugar and granulated sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g self-raising flour (I used Waitrose sponge flour)
  • 50g salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together until pale and frothy. Then sift in the flour and fold to combine.

Stir the melted butter, salt and creme fraiche together in the saucepan. Beat together with a large spoonful of the egg/sugar/flour mixture, and this to the egg/sugar/flour bowl, and fold through until combined.

Place in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170˚C and bake a further 20 minutes. A skewer should come out clean when the cake is done. Leave to cool then unmould. You can slice it in half and sandwich with sweetened crème fraîche mixed with double cream, and a layer of jam, or leave it plain.

No Sardines in Sardinia

When we came back from Naples, A and I had uneasy thoughts about our next trip to Italy. Naples had been a shock to the system, grimy, gritty, hard to love. Would Sardinia be the same?

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At first, we weren’t sure. Rolling our suitcase out of Alghero’s tiny airport, we headed for the car rental stall, only to see a group of angry Germans arguing furiously with a group of 5 sunglasses-clad deeply bronzed Italians manning the desk. It took all 5 of them to sort out one car for this increasingly irate man.

Thankfully, our own car hire was a smooth, relatively uneventful process. The Ford Fiesta was a step up from the car I had originally picked, and soon we were driving out of the airport, deep into the midst of olive groves, green hills, the roads lined with poppies and other wildflowers. Blue skies ahead, I felt utterly content.

The hotel too was a dream, surrounded by gloriously green countryside. I completely fell in love with the swimming pool, and A was rather bemused at how much time I spent floating about in it. 

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With huddles of sheep in the distance, and the trill of birdsong in the air, tortoises crawling across the road, you just couldn’t get further away from the busy urban life of work, London and commuting.

I’m not sure I remember doing much in the way of tourist attractions apart from exploring some of Sardinia’s nuraghe, stone towers that are the last remnants of an ancient civilisation. So much more interesting than Stonehenge, and dotted just about everywhere.

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The rest of the short holiday was naturally spent happily doing laps in the gorgeous hotel swimming pool, or sunning myself on a virtually empty beach, hills dotted with purple blooms of wild orchids rising into the background.

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It was just simply perfect. Not to mention the fresh seafood, grilled on the beach, and served up with a fresh tablecloth, napkins, and squeeze of lemon, because fish and chips has a totally different meaning Italian-style.

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When all you want is a little R n’ R, I cannot recommend Sardinia highly enough. It was a perfect holiday destination, and I can’t wait to go back.

Lemon, Almond and Pistachio Loaf Cakes

Sometimes baking is all the better for a close connection with nature. I remember several years ago, cycling to a nearby farm from my parents’ house to buy duck eggs, then collecting primroses out in the woods to be painted and sugared at home. It was a delicious cake, the duck eggs adding a rich golden lustre to the sponge, so simple yet wonderful.

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Although it’s been a while since I last popped out for a walk just because, this Spring the weather has been so glorious that I couldn’t quite help myself. It’s just wonderful to be outside right now. Mossy little dells carpeted with tiny golden and white flowers, violets peeping between hedgerows, and clusters of primroses everywhere.

So really, I just felt like baking something sweetly simple. A citrussy cake, laced with ground pistachios, almonds, drenched in zesty lemon syrup, and finished off with some flaked almonds.

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Next time I would put the flaked almonds straight onto the cake before baking, instead of toasting and sprinkling on afterwards.

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Lemon, Pistachio and Almond Loaf Cakes

Adapted from River Cafe Cookbook Easy

For the cake:

  • 125g lightly salted butter
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20g plain flour
  • 50g pistachios, finely ground
  • 60g ground almonds
  • flaked almonds

For the syrup:

  • 30g golden caster sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 150˚C.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Then gradually whisk in the eggs until completely incorporated. Whisk in the lemon zest and vanilla extract, then fold in the flour and ground nuts until completely mixed in. Spoon the mixture into mini loaf cases and sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and springy on top.

Set the cakes aside to cool.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine the lemon juice, zest and sugar into a small pan. Over a medium heat, cook the liquid until it has reduced and become syrupy. Using a teaspoon, spoon the syrup over the cakes.

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A Break in Budapest

I was desperate to get out of the country for a bit, so jumped at the opportunity when cheap tickets to Budapest popped up on the Internet.

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I have oddly low expectations of Eastern European cities. For some reason, I expect all former Soviet countries to exude Spartan greyness in the form of monolithic concrete tower blocks, stars and sickles plastered over every surface and statues of Lenin looking into the distance. Perhaps it’s indoctrination at school, who knows?

So anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when the plane glided into an astonishingly modern terminal building. Central Budapest is a gorgeous confection of former Austro-Hungarian splendour, and there’s plenty in the way of architectural delights to admire.

The main highlights of the trip were the House of Terror, Hospital in the Rock, and the Holocaust Memorial Centre. Hungary had a turbulent 20th century, and you can’t help but feel that nobody really escaped suffering through it.

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Then after all those sobering reminders of human atrocity, it’s nice to think about the more glamorous aspects of Hungary’s past by having a coffee and slice of cake in one of it’s fancier establishments. Not it to mention that everything in Budapest is so cheap by UK standards you can afford to go fancy not just once, but basically every day!

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Everyone talks about the New York Cafe being the place to go hang out, but despite its glitzy interior, I didn’t think it really lived up to the hype.

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I likes Hotel Gellert better but my favourite place was Ruzwurm, a quaint establishment that sits in one of the most picturesque parts of Budapest in the Castle Hill district. You can see it’s incredibly popular and they serve the most wonderful hot chocolate and delicious homemade cakes.

Then naturally, being as food-centric as I am, of course I had to pay a trip to the big food market, where I picked up a souvenir sausage to take back for A. The other food there was fairly underwhelming, cakes had rubbery over-gelatinised fillings and the strudels were soggy.

Other highlights of the trip included the Ethnographic museum which had a fascinating exhibition on Hungarian Jews and is situated in one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest.

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I was pretty orney about spending all my forints so on the last day, determined I had to use them all up, via a trip up the funicular railway, a really enormous Hungarian chimney cake, and some bacon-flavoured crackers. I’m proud to say that I managed it too! Lovely as Budapest was, I’m not likely to make another trip there soon, so it seemed unnecessary to have lots of spare forints rolling around the place, especially as everything there was so gloriously inexpensive.

The Best of 2014

I have epic Quality Street withdrawal symptoms. This consists of my eyes honing in on anything purple and plastic, and poking around hopefully around all the cupboards in case I hid some chocolates in one of them. My pockets rustle with empty foil wrappers.

Last year, I wrote a recap post. There’s been so much baking in 2014 I knew I’d do it again. I’ve really stretched myself in so many ways, trying difficult techniques, and a heck a lot of French patisserie. So here we go!

The year started off with setting myself the challenge of conquering River Café’s infamous chocolate nemesis. What a way to start January.

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Buoyed from my first challenge, I finally braved the italian meringue method of macaron-making. With Pierre Hermé’s book, there was no stopping me! I baked and baked and baked, and my family pleaded with me that they were all mightily sick of macarons.

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On a similarly Parisian theme, I had to bake fresh fruit tartlets, and these strawberry beauties had me sold.

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Then even more French patisserie with the Gateau L’Opera

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Perhaps a change from French indulgence. This summery red, white and blue cheesecake was absolutely delicious, and required no baking at all. Less of a French theme going on, unless you just count the colours.

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Many birthdays followed, requiring the obligatory inclusion of chocolate cake. Never put birthday candles on this cake in 30˚C heat – it melteth….

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Then time for something savoury with these chorizo sausage rolls which were the BEE’S KNEES and sure to get another outing in the future!
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And then, come Christmas, bringing in the festivity with these gorgeous mince pies. I couldn’t stop making these over and over again.

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For 2015, there’s a few things I’d like to get to grips with.

Red velvet cake has always been a tricky one with me, so I’d love to find a recipe I was 100% happy with. Then in the savoury department, perhaps I’ll finally get round to making a pie that doesn’t contain apple! Pork pie anyone? Then perhaps more experimentation with yeast – brioche, and maybe a homemade Panettone next Christmas!

Let’s see what happens :).

Happy New Year! 

Nomming Through Naples

“See Naples and die.”

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Thus goes the saying, referring to a time when Naples was so beautiful you had to see it in your lifetime. These days? Well, I travelled to Naples this Autumn, and I can’t help thinking the saying takes on a whole new meaning.

Naples has a pretty unsavoury reputation. Before my visit, I’d heard stories about the strong mafia presence, heavy crime levels and piles of refuse heaping the streets. As soon as we exited the airport, it looked like the rumours were true. An angry taxi driver gesticulated and shouted at quaking young tourist. The mêlée of screeching crowds vying with zigzagging mopeds in the dirty, graffiti-plastered historic centre was both dismayingly loud and claustrophobic.

So it’s not an inviting city, that’s fair to say. The historical centre, with its narrow almost derelict houses and swathes of laundry, almost feels like a step back into the middle ages. People fling buckets of dirty water out into the street, household refuse piles up in unsuspecting corners, and vagrants paw through the communual rubbish bins. By day, there is a certain charm about some of the streets, peddling their wares of nativity scenes, red horns to protect against the evil eye, gelato, and local specialities. By night, the poorly lit alleyways are menacing rather than exciting.

We did try our hardest to explore Naples, and behind its grimy coating, the city does offer some bright, albeit well-hidden gems. Traditional taverna Cantina del Gallo was the best place we ate at. We arrived at the doorway, only to be warmly welcomed by the owner and tempted with plate after plate of delicious nibbles.

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The arancini were delicious, as were as the mini pizzettes and the croquetes. The pizzas you could watch being made in the open plan kitchen and they came generously topped and full of fresh flavours.

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For the home of pizza we tried out a fair few. Neopolitan favourite Gino Sorbillo also do a roaring trade in traditional stonebaked pizzas. You won’t get good customer service, but you will get a very very tasty pizza. Go early or be prepared to queue for a very, very long time.

For the sweeter-toothed, Pastisserie S. Caparelli did the best sfogliatella, delicious ricotta filled pastries, and you got them with a smile too, which was a bonus.

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Gay Odin do very tasty fruit sorbets, gelato and the Italian classic, torrone morbido. I’m going to try and make some of this soft, almost truffley torrone soon once I find a workable recipe.

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There aren’t a lot of exciting attractions to see in Naples otherwise. The archeological museum is worth a glimpse for the stunning mosaics and rude roman paraphenalia, but often the good exhibits are shut due to staff shortages. The Capella Sansevero is worth a visit due for the beautiful sculptures and anatomical machines. Italy has a wealth of beautiful churches, and I guess once you’ve seen a few, there’s only so much you can gasp in awe.

I imagine most travellers use Naples as a pit stop for the Almalfi coastline (where we didn’t go, sob) or the sights of Pompeii. It’s probably quite harsh of me to say so, but I certainly wouldn’t regard Naples as a place to return to again. There are a few goodies, but it’s not enough to entice me back.