Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bangkok Metropolitan Hotel and the new nahm Restaurant

I'm in Bangkok on my way home to Sydney.  I'm finishing the blog; thinking about a movie; and maybe working out how to put together a coffee table book of my better photos.
The Metropolitan has been my favourite hotel in Bangkok for many years. I love the welcome; the contemporary yet very warm and comfortable feel of the place;. the large, cream matt-finish marble bathroom with the lemongrass toiletries  (something I luxuriate in sinfully, and always look forward to returning to); the polished wood floors; crisp linens; terrific breakfasts that make 'healthy' taste so good.  
Now, the celebrated Australian-born David Thompson of Darley Street Thai (of old) in Sydney, and nahm at the Halkin in Belgravia (the first Michelin-starred Thai Restaurant in Europe), has recently opened his restaurant here in the Metropolitan. 

nahm - wonderful, authentic Thai cuisine with recipes Thompson developed for the Royal Family. One of the hotel staff told me that this younger generation of Thais has never experienced such food before. The degustation menu gave me the chance to taste many delicate flavours of unusual combinations of fresh produce. 

The sweetness of the longan fruit made even sweeter by the black sticky rice and caramelised taro - I'm happier with the slice of fresh green pear with green sugar, salt and chilli pepper!

No matter how careful, a stray chilli sent my hiatus hernia into overdrive; (thank God for the cucumber in the fresh vegetables and herbs bowl); but the delicate blue swimmer crab curry with coconut, turmeric and summer limes was a soothing balm. It was simply wonderful! Why can't we have this simplicity in Sydney? 'My' Sailors Thai Potts Point could just get us there.

The zen-like simplicity of the forecourt of the Metropolitan in Bangkok

Click on Picasa Album to see the slideshow and captions on the full screen

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Long Weekend in Rome

Our long weekend in Rome is not off to a good start. The Hotel de la Ville (where I stayed on my first-ever visit to Europe with Alan and John in 1967) has only one instead of two rooms that were confirmed to us. A frustrated Edmundo tells an officious receptioniste, "stop talking like a broken record telling us over and over the hotel is full. Just do something and fix it!" The Duty Manager eventually found us a shoebox for the first night.

After all that we need a drink and a bite of lunch but the restaurants closed at three!

It's hard to believe that peace and tranquility can be found here in Via Margutta just five minutes walk from the bustling Spanish Steps

I love the siena colours of rust on the walls of the buildings of Rome

. . . . and imposing statues at every turn
On one corner of Piazza del Popolo

I check out the old Piazza di Spagna American Express office that I spent so much time working on the internal layout more than 20 years ago. I can't recognise it today

I have to pick my way through hordes of tourists sitting on the Spanish Steps to return to my hotel (and a new room!). 
A sunny day in Rome after being very overcast and dismal

Where are the pots of azaleas of old?
Michael in 'working times' of the 80's - when the Spanish Steps had more azaleas than tourists

Sunday Mass in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican also gives us the opportunity to admire this wonderful edifice once again. At noon, we wait in the rain to see a cloth placed over the sill of a distant window, a sign the Pope is about to appear to recite the Angelus, and address the crowd. A rapturous crescendo of 'Viva el Papa' goes up as His Holiness appears, on an outdoor screen!
Michelangelo's great dome above Bernini's bronze baldacchino canopy in the centre of St Peter's Basilica

The spiral bronze columns derive their shapes from the columns of the baldacchino in the original St. Peter's Basilica built by Constantine, which legend has it came from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem

One of the Papal Swiss Guards, founded in 1506, in the traditional colourful uniform 

A side trip to the flower markets in Campo di Fiori is very disappointing . . . but the traditional Italian radicchio and porcini mushrooms in the vegetable stalls save the day

This is what I'll use when I make the Stefano Torgiano radicchio and red wine risotto

I've had my fill of grilled porcini with rosemary and garlic on this trip!

On my last day, I take advantage of a late check-out from my hotel and walk in the nearby Borghese Gardens. The views over the terracotta roofs of Rome from here are quite amazing.
Victor Emmanuel Monument from the Villa Borghese Gardens on my morning walk 

Tempio di Esculapio in the (English) Lake Garden in the Villa Borghese Park

View the Picasa Web Album - click on the pictures below and it opens into full screen; you can also view the photos one by one.

Farewell to Umbria

23rd Sept
Stefano was so pleased with my photos of the figs, carrots and maize etc in his vegetable patch earlier in the week, so much so that he offered to come over and cook for us on our final night. He brought all the ingredients including a flagon of olive oil from last year's olive crop as well as fresh radicchio and red wine to make the risotto. 

We have so many laughs as Stefano does a 'Julia Child' and we video the performance.
To illustrate this blog post, I had to photograph the red radicchio 'cup' containing my seafood salad at lunch in Rome today

All we we did with this great flagon of home-pressed olive oil was to fry the onions at the beginning of the exercise, but it looked good


Edmundo, Michael, Stefano and Nasser still laughing after video-ing 'The Chef and the Cook'  show at Villa Chiara

Now, here is the recipe for Stefano's Radicchio and Red Wine Risotto ENJOY!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Of Umbrian Hill Towns and Masterpieces

I enjoy a 'field day' today with no limits on the taking of photographs of interiors in the Duomo in the hilltop town of Orvieto. 

The fields along the way are also worth a picture or two (and worth risking driver Edmundo's wrath for wanting to stop in impossible places on narrow mountainous roads).

Sunflowers in bloom and others past their prime make for a colourful landscape. You can understand why I asked Edmundo to stop on a bridge!

Vineyards and the rich soil of a valley high in the mountains on the way to Orvieto

After finding ourselves on the cliff top in Orvieto, we walk through the dark medieval streets and alleys. We come upon a light filled square where the glittering facade of mosaics, marble and bronzes on the 13th century cathedral rises skywards. It is said to be the finest example of Italian-Gothic religious architecture.

The foundations of the Cathedral were laid in 1290. This coincided with the period of maximum splendour of the city of Orvieto at the centre of a far-flung territorial dominion.

The most exciting and eye-catching part is its golden frontage, which is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols (Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle) of the Evangelists created by Maitani and collaborators (between 1325 and 1330) standing on the cornice above the sculptured panels on the piers. 

Mosaic with the Coronation of the Virgin in the central gable of the facade 

Marble bas-reliefs with stories of the Old Testament adorn the lower piers of the facade.  
One small section shows the Creation of Adam and Eve.

14th century bronze of the figure representing the evangelist Mark on the piers in the facade

The colourful decoration in the San Brizio chapel depicts scenes from the End of the World - the Resurrection of the Flesh; the Damned; and Paradise. It is largely the work of Luca Signorelli, who Michelangelo is said to have admired before he even commenced on his masterpiece work in the Sistine Chapel. I look on this as a mini-Sistine Chapel experience, without the crowds, and I'm allowed to take photos.

My Picasa web album at the end of this post has more photos of the amazing detail.

The flip out and rotating view finder in my Canon G11 lets me take some amazing ceiling shots in the San Brizio side Chapel in the Duomo. 

The Resurrection of the Flesh

The Resurrection of the Flesh in close-up

The Prostitute of the Apocalypse (representing the sinful city of Babylon) being taken down to Hell by the devil

The Damned and the demons


The Preaching of the antichrist with the Archangel Michael sending fire from heaven

Empedocles, the Greek philosopher born in Agrigentum, a Greek city in Sicily in 490 BC, who established the four ultimate elements which make all the structures in the world – fire, air, water, earth, peers out from one of the lower wall panels in the chapel.

One of the narrow streets in Orvieto with the old Tower in the background. We stop for pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms in a small piazza. We also needed a bottle of the chilled Orvieto Classico Superiore, a medium-dry local wine

On the way home, we take the slower mountainous route out of Orvieto to visit another of the famous hilltop towns, Todi. 

We stop in the main piazza of Todi for an ice cream and a macchiato

Click on the Picasa slideshow to view in full screen, or to go through the photos with captions.

A Morning Walk along the Ridge

I wake to a chill wind and a clear sunny morning after an overcast weekend.  Lunch plus dinner each day is starting to take its toll on the waistline so a morning walk along the ridge to the next town is not a bad idea.

The sun is about to rise over the valley

Vineyards stretch up and across the hillsides

The plump fruit is ready for harvesting but the grapes are too small and with too many seeds for eating

Wildflowers abound

Back home at the villa, I wonder if the quince in our orchard will be ready for stewing before we leave.

The quince look ripe to me. Pam, how do you stew yours?

David is leaving today, so he'll definitely miss out on the quince.

Eddy, Edmundo, Jim and Michael all worked together and travelled frequently to the same meetings around the world for years. Now we come with friends from around the world to this villa in Umbria.

And 'life in the fast lane' at the villa continues . . .

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stefano's Vegetable Patch

Here I am in the middle of Umbrian farmland for more than a week, and I haven't found basil that smells like basil. 

On hearing this, Stefano, the obliging interpreter for the owners of the villa, packs me into his car and drives me home to meet Mama Rita and Papa Mario. And then straight into the vege garden.  The smell of broken basil would knock you out! And why not take some celery too?

Stefano tells me when papa goes missing at night, he can be found under the fig tree tasting of the fruit. The glistening 'drop' of sweet juice at the base of the fig is an indication of its ripeness. And, I can now vouch for it.

The 'drop' as sweet as honey

I'd get lost under the fig tree in the evenings too with this delicious fruit

Mama Rita disappears into the hen house and comes out with freshly laid eggs for me. Stefano walks me to show me the maize that's grown for the hens.

The obliging Stefano

I'm waiting for breakfast to see if the yolks are this golden colour

We don't stop there - we pull up carrots and lettuce and pick the tomatoes.

I think these baby carrots will be best eaten raw. 

Tomatoes for salad and tomatoes for sauce

And why not takes some grapes off the vine too? Such is life in the countryside.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Generations still work at Wine-making at Casale Villa Chiara

The tiled roof at the edge of our garden hides a secret wine-making centre. I discover a little hive of industry this afternoon as a tractor laden with grapes heads down the drive. I put my head over the side and the grandmother beckon me down. 

We now have two bottles of 'dolce', sweet grape juice of red and white colour, and a bowl of freshly picked grapes. Danieli, the grandson warns me not to put the tops on the bottles saying, "it will ferment and explode". (it tastes of delicious sweet grape juice.)

'vino e cultura' with the Family Rossi at Villa Chiara

The fertile river valley beyond the tiled roof of the 'winery' at Villa Chiara