Querubim Lapa

On a visit to Lisbon, writes Marshall Colman,  I found that the azulejo tradition is not only more deeply rooted in Portugal’s culture than I realised but that it remains alive and is being continually renewed.Marshall Lisbon 1

The Lisbon metro has been decorated in azulejos over the last twenty years, using modern techniques like screen printing and styles and themes that are completely contemporary. Then, when we were walking past the Pasteleria Alcôa (the best pastry shop in the city), I saw the tiled shop front made by Querubim Lapa in 1960, a beautiful, softly-painted panel in shades of blue.

Lapa, I discovered, was one of Portugal’s principal contemporary ceramic artists. The high esteem in which tile painting is held in this country meant that after a training and early career in easel painting, he was able to concentrate entirety on ceramics.Marshall Lisbon 2

The shop in Rua Garrett, originally for a seller of lottery tickets, Casa da Sorte, was a collaboration between architect Francisco Conceição Silva and Lapa. Lapa rated his contribution so highly that he asked for his application for the chair in ceramics at the school of fine arts to be assessed on it alone.

When Casa da Sorte closed, there was concern for the future of this fine ceramic work, but, when Alcôa took over the building in 2015, they undertook not to disturb it.

This first appeared on Marshall Colman’s blog – https://marshallcolman.blog

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sublime granita

Photo: Liz Cousins

Caffe Sicilia rivals the great Duomo of Noto in south east Sicily as a tourist attraction. Nondescript and like a thousand other cafes in Italy, it’s hard to understand the appeal until you experience its version of the classic Sicilian breakfast of  almond granita and brioche. On a hot, dusty morning when a thin layer of Saharan sand envelopes the town, this is the perfect antidote to thirst and hunger. The brioche is feather light but buttery while the almost unsweetened granita conveys the very essence of roasted almond.

Caffe Sicilia

Corso Vittorio Emanuele 125 – 96017 Noto

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amsterdam – Stampot and White Bikes

Marshall Colman recommends a traditional (but good) Amsterdam restaurant and recounts how the bike hire schemes of London and cities all over the world were inspired by a bunch of Dutch anarchists. 

When I was at a conference in the Netherlands a few years back, our hosts promised us the most exquisite and typical Dutch dinner at the end of the day. After the build-up I was disappointed to be given stamppot, a plate of mashed swede and potato with a large sausage stuck in it. On a weekend break in Amsterdam at the beginning of December I overcame my prejudice against northern European food.

It was a good time to go. The weather was clear and mild and as we walked along the Prinzengracht looking for breakfast, with only a few early walkers and cyclists, the light on the canal houses was magical. If you go in the summer you’ll have to get up very early indeed to see that. The Rijkmuseum didn’t have a Christmas tree, they had a hologram (illustrated).

Most of the canal district is peaceful because bikes are the main means of transport – though phalanxes of cyclists can suddenly come at you from unexpected directions, and many of them don’t have lights. Cycling is a much more casual affair than in Britain because no-one wears a helmet either and they don’t dress up in lycra, high-vis jackets and special shoes. We make a big song and dance of cycling, but Dutch bikes are like armchairs on wheels and everyone rides them in their normal clothes. Even outside the kindergarten near our hotel there were about a hundred tiny bikes.

It was Haesje Claes, the old restaurant in Spuitstraat, that helped me overcome my prejudices. They serve traditional hearty food but do it well – things like beef stew with red cabbage and mashed potatoes, marrow peas with a confit of pork and bacon, chicken livers with onions, bacon and mashed potatoes, duck leg candied in goose fat with sauerkraut and port sauce. There’s a good selection of beer and wine – a bottle of Op & Top went well with the beef stew.

Haesje  Claes

open daily 12-10pm (last orders)

273-275  Spuistraat

1012 Amsterdam


The Spui square at the top of the street is a traditional place for meetings and demos.  In the 1960s the Provos assembled there. The Provos were anarchists and social entrepreneurs, who had the name before the IRA. They arose from the happenings of Robert Jasper Grootvelt and the politics of Roel van Duijn, which owed a lot to Herbert Marcuse, and they mobilised youthful rebellion against the Dutch elite, consumerism and police repression.

They proposed white bikes – public bikes that people would pick up and leave as they wanted. The council said no, so the Provos provided them. The police said they were illegal because of a law that all bikes had to be locked, so they put locks and them and painted the combination numbers on the bikes.  (See the priceless photos at http://www.corjaring.nl/moreinfo.php?id=3298&template=provo.html&Menu=44&MenuName=Provo)

Van Duijn proposed that all cars had to have plants growing on their roofs and that roads should be sunk five feet below the pavement so that all pedestrians would see would be moving gardens.

Unlike traditional political groups, Provo was mocking and funny. At the wedding of Princes Beatrix to the German Claus von Amsberg (which was unpopular with many) they not only let off smoke bombs but also released chickens, in reference to the Dutch word for cop. The cops used increasing violence against their demos but the Provos treated them as partners in their happenings and made them look stupid. The greater the violence, the bigger the demos and the more liberal support for Provo. Riots in 1966 (which van Duijn disowned) alienated many and the police chief and the mayor were dismissed for incompetence. Van Duijn was elected to Amsterdam council with wacky ideas, but essentially a moderate programme couched in extreme language, and with his involvement in practical politics and the loss of their “partners”, Grootvelt and Rob Stolk wound up Provo. But the movement influenced the counterculture of the sixties, changed Amsterdam and helped to make Holland a more liberal place. It’s due to them that, whether you like it or not, Amsterdam smells of dope.

Grootvelt and Stolk are dead. Van Duijn, is now a Green politician. Luud Schimmelpennink, the originator of the white bikes, is a consultant to many city councils on alternative transport schemes, and the Boris Bikes in London were essentially invented in 1965 by this group of anarchist-Dadaists in Amsterdam

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Top sights in Lisbon: Food Paradise

Don’t go to Lisbon without visiting the Azelejo Museum – decorated tiles are one of Portugal’s glories – or taking in the panoramic views from the Castle. Or even the breathtaking views of the city at sunset itself from across the Tagus at riverside restaurant Atira-te os Rios with its exceedingly scrummy squid risotto or cod with prawns. No, don’t miss any of these, but if you’re fond of food make a bee-line for the restored covered market, Mercado da Ribeira.


Alongside the public market, with fish, meat, fruit and veg stalls is a vast hall housing dozens of premium food outlets – not the standard chains of the British food court. No, this is where the best restaurants, vintners, patissieres and sweet makers in the city proudly proclaim this is the place to eat in Lisbon, at a fraction of the  normal cost of a meal. For between 5-12 euros, acclaimed chefs offer carefully made dishes using premium raw materials in a fast food setting. For 14 euros I sampled the best slow roasted pork belly with pea puree and pak choi I expect to eat for a long while, with a satisfyingly rich glass of a red wine from the Alentejo. You can also sign up for cookery courses at the Academy.


Mercado da Ribeira

Avenida Vinte e Quatro de Julho, Cais do Sodre, Lisbon

Open lunch to midnight every day

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Place for Pasteis de Nata

At the historic Belem bakery they claim to make 20,000 pasties de nata every day.  The length of the queue snaking down the street attests to the power of this top drawer for tourists but who wants to stand waiting for hours on a hot day. Especially when you can find excellent pasteis and coffee two hundred metres’ away.


Just across the road from the Monastery of Jeronimos is a replica of a yellow Lisbon tram and a shady outdoor cafe. The pasta I ate was warm, the pastry perfectly flaky and the filling a wondrous wobbly sweet yolkiness.


Banana Cafe

corner Rua dos Jeronimos and Calcada do Galvao

Belem, Lisbon

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A little place by the sea in Portugal

Pant up the hill away from the beach and you find yourself in the back streets of Sesimbra, a loveable resort 40 minutes’ south of Lisbon.


O Herminio is a tiny tapas bar with a few tables outside with a view of the sea. A pleasant change from the serried ranks of fish restaurants by the promenade, serving a short menu of meaty, fishy and vegetable petiscos (Portuguese for tapas).


Petiscos pro povo is their slogan – petiscos for the people – and for less than 20 euros two of us enjoyed a filling selection with a couple of glasses of wine and coffee. Star of the show was alheiro sausage with turnip greens and cornbread crumbs – a soft, rich dish that went well with chickpeas and local black olives. Herminio was the grandfather of the two sisters who run the place, determined to carve out for themselves a viable future they couldn’t find in Lisbon.


O Herminio

corner Rua Professor Joaquim Marques Polvora and Rua Dom Dinis


Open every day for coffee, lunch and dinner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pizzeria da Remo: When in Rome

Thin crust alla Remo

Thin crust alla Remo

August – writes Rhodri Jones –  is fast drawing to a close and at Pizzeria da Remo, families, and neighbours are embracing, laughing and catching up with friends, following the re-opening of this neighbourhood stalwart after the long summer break.

Da Remo is exactly what you had in mind when you dreamt about finding THE perfect neighbourhood Pizzeria in the Eternal City.

Hot outside, sweltering inside, we are sitting in the direct line of the wood burning oven that the head band sporting “pizzaiolo” are running at full pelt with their pizza paddles sliding in and out of the searing hot dome at a frenzied rate.

San Remo

A waiter, identified by either their green branded t-shirts or an SS Lazio polo shirt – for this restaurant follows the older of the capital’s two Seria A teams – soon catches our eye. We are then presented with a stubby biro and a dim-sum style scorecard, from which we ticked-off our list of wants.

Testaccio, the still industrial neighbourhood that hugs this middle stretch of the Tiber, may well be fast becoming a ‘hipster’ neighbourhood, but Remo is where you’ll find no-nonsense thin crust – exceptionally thin crust – ever-so slightly charred Roman pizzas that can support only the daintiest of toppings. We are talking the classics here: Margherita, funghi, Napoli, marinara. They come in two varieties the quintessentially Roman, Pizza Bianca (a simple dash of salt and olive oil) and the traditional pizza rosse (tomato based). We plumped for a Margherita con bufala and another with added salsiccia (pork sausage seasoned with fennel). Both arrived bubbling away, spilling out over their plates. And what at first sight, seemed more than somewhat intimidating, were both hungrily devoured with only minimal chat in between scoffing.

Their suppli (deep-fried balls of rice) are not as revered as some in the capital…but when in Rome…so we had two, and from their ‘fritti’ list, a fiori di zucca (fried stuffed zucchini flowers). Both were top notch.

No local craft beers here sadly, but the two malted Morretti’s went down a treat.

We could have finished up with all sorts of gelato/chocolate based indulgences, but desert for us was simply half a watermelon, crammed to bursting with sugary goodness.

By now It was just gone 11pm, the restaurant was winding down and the crew were tucking into their well-earned stone-cold birras as excited bambini continued their running between the tables, way-past their bedtimes.

Cucina Romana is said to have been born in Testaccio and the area has firmly re-established itself as a key foodie destination. And yes you can do organised food/walking tours. So a canny strategy could involve starting with an aperitivo of trappizioni, an insanely delicious white pizza pocket (ingredients a closely guarded secret) filled with everything from tripe to melanzana (aubergine) to East African stew before you tackle the main event.

Pizzeria da Remo is certainly utilitarian and cramped – no space here for that most ubiquitous of Roman tourist tat, the selfie-stick- but no-frills functional in the best possible sense.

The Denizens of the Italian capital will continue to argue over who can conjure up the best results from flour, olive oil, salt, sugar and yeast for centuries to come. While they carry on their deliberations, skip the Trevi fountain – it’s under-repair anyhow – and make some room for Remo in your list of must-do things in Rome. Their thin-crust pizzas are a thing of joy.

1 suppli 1.30 euro

1 fiori di zucca 2.50 euro

1 Margherita con bufala (pizza rosse) 8.00 Euro

1 salsiccia (pizza rosse) 7.00 Euro

Pizzeria da Remo

Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice 44A

00153 Rome


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garden City, Budapest

When you go to Budapest – writes Marshall Colman – you will, of course, visit the grand old pastry shop Gerbeaud; but why not venture further afield to a simple out-of-town cukrászda, a traditional coffee shop, in one of the most successful social housing developments in Europe?

We went to the Wekerle Estate, Budapest’s garden city, to see the Arts and Crafts architecture of Károly Kós. The state-owned workers’ estate was built in the early 20th century on the initiative of the prime minister, Sándor Wekerle, to accommodate the city’s rapidly increasing population in a new kind of tenanted housing. Inspired by the English garden city movement, it was an attack on the landlord system, at first meant for public sector employees. Wekerle spawned co-operatives and community associations, planted thousands of trees and bought fruit bushes for the tenants’ gardens. You might think such a socialist experiment would have appealed to Hungary’s Communists, but they closed the community association and let the estate decay. Now there’s a renaissance of community action, green ventures and volunteering. We went on a sweltering day and stopped at the spacious, old-fashioned pastry shop for a cake and a coffee.

Allow at least half a day for a tour of the 1.7 sq. km. estate. Bus 99 from Blaha Lujza tér will take you to Kós Károly tér at the heart of the estate. Over 65s travel free. Guide books and information in English from the community centre (Wekerle Táraskör) in Kós Károly tér (closed noon to 4pm; no credit cards).

Allow at least half a day for a tour of the 1.7 sq. km. estate. Bus 99 from Blaha Lujza tér will take you to Kós Károly tér at the heart of the estate. Over 65s travel free. Guide books and information in English from the community centre (Wekerle Táraskör) in Kós Károly tér (closed noon to 4pm; no credit cards).

Budapest's garden estate

Budapest’s garden estate

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eating in Orkney

Liz Cousins

We were about to turn back thinking we had missed our turning when we  noticed the sign to the Tomb of the Eagles- ‘That’s it’ cried one of the party and we finally found ourselves at Skerries Bistro at the southern-most tip of  South Ronaldsay, Orkney.

And wow wasn’t it worth it?

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 10.09.31

The site is magnificent with fulmers, gulls and skuas wheeling around this cliff top restaurant which had  only recently moved into new premises.  Previously food had been served in the conservatory of a nearby farmhouse. This new building, all glass and stunning views, reminded me of some of the best sights and sites in New Zealand – and the food was good too.

We all had seafood platters  (£14.50) which came with excellent home made rolls. Locally caught crab and home smoked fish were exceptional. A bottle of decent white wine starts at £15. There is a £50 per head tasting menu served in the circular pod on the clifftop by the restaurant.

Carole and Hamish Howatt who own the bistro are passionate about seasonal and locally sourced food and that is reflected  in the menu. Crab and lobster are from the nearby harbour and fish is smoked by the owners themselves. Meat eaters are catered for as well and the lasagna made with Orkney beef almost tempted the meat eaters among our party.

This is my second visit to Orkney and it continues to delight: the endless open vistas – there are very few trees – the changing colours of land and sea and the ever present sense of ancient history make it a very special place.

Skerries Bistro



South Ronaldsay


KW17 2 RW

01856 831605


Open daily till 26 October 2014, 1100 -1700 and then 1800 -2200. Closed Tuesday evenings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


 La Movida – the Happening – was how Madrid presented itself in the heady days after the dictator’s death. That’s thirty odd years ago but still Madrid has a certain something – joie de vivre, plain hedonism – that it likes to share with visitors. Does any city have more bars, cafes and restaurants, and interlocking squares full of the chatter of chilled out human beings. You can’t help but be charmed, especially if you avoid the summer cauldron. Go in spring or autumn, choose a small hotel on the edge of the city centre, somewhere like the Lope de Vega on the street of the same name, just across the road from El Prado, the art gallery, and on the edge of the buzzy Huertas barrio.

Make yourself at home at Casa González, just up the street on Calle León, a shop where you can perch on a stool and sample their superb cheese, ham and wine selection (there’s also a restaurant at the back). Make time to visit the Prado but be warned, it is vast. Better to go early and join the queue before it opens and then make a beeline for your favourite artist. We spent the best part of an hour gazing at Velázquez’ Las Meninas and wondering at the audacity of the man who made himself the centre of a portrait of the royal family.

Lunch? How about Gaudeamus – al fresco, on the top floor of Spain’s Open University, in the fascinating Lavapies area. You get wonderful views of the city and, if you walk up rather than take the lift, the interior of an ancient building stunningly converted. (Calle Tribulete 14, Edificio Escuelas Pías, gaucafe.com.) Go the whole hog with the menú degustación (€28) which includes, memorably, pumpkin tempura, lamb cous cous and an intensely rich salt cod scrambled eggs with crispy onion. And with it drink cooling tinto de verano – red wine and lemonade.

Gaudeamus - rooftop views of the city

Gaudeamus – rooftop views of the city

 After a snooze you’ll be ready for Madrid’s other great art attraction, the Thyssen, just up the road from El Prado. Housed in a coolly elegant building, this is the personal collection of the Thyssens, husband and wife, housed separately, and includes snapshots of every period and style. Unusual and worth spending time on are the mini collections of American landscapes (hers) and German inter-war art (his).

Lucas Cranach - Portrait of a Woman (Thyssen-Bornemisza)

Lucas Cranach – Portrait of a Woman (Thyssen-Bornemisza)

Although not renowned for music, Madrid does have an impressive concert hall, the Auditorio Nacional (metro: Cruz del Rayo) and a chamber music series every year. We heard a young generation quartet, Cuarteto Noga, playing Mozart, Ravel and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. It was an invitation concert – publicly advertised – and the seats were free.

 2014-06-06 21.29.39

It’s easy to spend a few days in Madrid and not realize it’s built above the river Manzanares. Don’t miss a stroll along the 10 km. walkway/cyclepath lined with parks and the occasional café that loops lazily around the city’s western fringes. Drop down to the river from Calle Segovia.

 Finally settle down for a couple of cañas of beer, some ham, anchovies and tortilla in Taberna La Dolores, just up the road from the hotel in Plaza de Jesús 4.

Taberna Las Dolores

Taberna Las Dolores


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment