As I previously mentioned in a post about Belgrade’s hidden gems, when it comes to Serbian food I wasn’t holding out much hope as a non-meat eater. I had visions of meaty stews and well, pretty much meaty everything. Fortunately I was proven wrong on a couple of occasions. Firstly with a visit to Belgrade’s vegetarian restaurant Radost (yes one does actually exist)and secondly with dinner at Belgrade’s best restaurant, Homa.
I’d been tipped off by a friend who had recently been to Belgrade that if I was after inventive, contemporary cooking in Serbia’s capital then Homa was the place to go. The only snag was finding Belgrade’s best restaurant. She mentioned it was located in the Dorcol area. It turned out that we were staying literally a 5-minute walk away. But as all the street signs are written in cyrillic it can be tricky finding where you’re looking for. Luckily our Airbnb host gave us a guided walk around the area and was able to find the side street street we were after. It took him a while to figure it out as he’d never heard of this Belgrade hidden gem. And even then we weren’t convinced it was the right street as there wasn’t much on it, until we got to the end and saw a modern, white building, which turned out to be Homa.
Walking down the street we never would have guessed that Belgrade’s best restaurant was waiting for us at the end of it. Inside the decor was trendy, lots of white with high ceilings and hanging spherical lights and a bar at the back. The space felt intimate and I also really liked the garden area and tables out at the front. The only thing I found weird, but this would be the case in all Serbian restaurants is that you can smoke. One of the women on the table next to us chain-smoked as she ate (I’d forgotten there was even a time when you could smoke in restaurants) but it was more strange to see than anything else.
As I don’t eat meat Sharps very kindly offered to go for one of the fish dishes on the menu. I chose sea bass with ricotta cheese, accompanied by a kind of potato blini with horseradish and he went for a very rare-crusted tuna with sesame seeds, drizzled in a sweet salad dressing and coconut milk – both were specials of the day. Both dishes were well executed, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting such high standards when it came to eating out in Serbia. While I’m not usually a dessert person the standout dish by far was Sharps’ clay pot pudding, Homa’s signature dish recommended to us by our waitress. It took all the self control I could muster not to dive into it (I didn’t in case the mousse had gelatine in it). A layer of dark chocolate covered with chocolatey, crunchy biscuit pieces (think Oreos), topped a layer of white chocolate mousse and mint ice cream. Sharps was in his element, so much so he contemplated ordering another one.
Homa may be Belgrade’s best restaurant but don’t be put off by the fact that it’s fancy. The atmosphere is relaxed and the staff were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They helpfully supplied us with an English menu and even let us pay in Euros as we hadn’t yet been able to change any money into Serbian dinar (you can only buy the currency within the country). Plus, while Homa may be one of Serbia’s more expensive restaurants, compared to eating out in London or Amsterdam it’s great value for money and relatively cheap so it won’t break the bank. What more of an excuse to have dinner at Belgrade’s best restaurant then?
I’ve often wandered past The Rookery Hotel near Farringdon station and wonder what it was (I assumed it was some kind of restaurant or bar). It wasn’t until the other week, when I had the opportunity to stay at this quirky boutique London hotel, I realised my mistake. The Rookery is a quintessential British hotel and one of Farringdon’s hidden gems. From the outside the brick facade of The Rookery Hotel in Farringdon is unassuming. Built in the 18th and 19th centuries, The Rookery Hotel was formerly a series of shops, with accommodation above – you can still see the tradesmen signs – in part of what was once one of London’s worst city slums (a rookery was an 18th century city slum).
Thankfully this couldn’t be further away from The Rookery Hotel as it stands today. Discreetly tucked away on the corner of St Peter’s Lane and Cowcross Street, I’d definitely class The Rookery Hotel as one of Farringdon’s hidden gems. It’s gorgeous. The converted Georgian terraces of the Rookery Hotel ooze character and Dickensian charm. This cosy boutique hotel has 33 rooms and two singles (including suites – the Rook’s Nest taking up the top floor is the most decadent which comes complete with its own Edwardian bathing machine and a spire that goes into the eves, hidden by a retractable ceiling) all named after former residents. Stepping inside The Rookery Hotel it felt as if I’d entered into a private members’ club. Surrounded by lots of dark wood and a distinctly masculine vibe, I was world’s away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact it was hard to believe I was in the heart of Farringdon.
We stayed in the Sophie Rood room, at the end of a seemingly endless, Crystal Maze-like corridor on the third floor (there are no lifts). Forget contemporary chic, The Rookery Hotel is all about old world charm. I loved the four poster bed, wooden slats and ornate busts dotted around the room of this historic hotel which has free wifi, and there were even books on the mantlepiece as well as a TV, fridge, minibar and safe all unobtrusively located within the wooden wardrobe. Spying a free-standing cast iron roll-top bath in the adjoining bathroom I decided to indulge in a leisurely soak – it would have been rude of me not to take advantage and put it to good use.
I also couldn’t believe my ears when I was told that The Rookery Hotel runs an ‘honesty’ bar. This means that the bar is left unstaffed, guests help themselves to drinks from the menu and write down in a book what they have had along with their room number. Given I’m very honest and that drinks were quite pricey (I don’t know if that’s to compensate for the fact that the hotel anticipates some people’s servings being a bit on the generous side, though I’d like to just put it down to London prices) we preferred to check out Farringdon’s nightlife. There’s plenty of it. The Rookery Hotel is one of the closest hotels to Farringdon tube station, it’s literally a 30 second walk. Plus it’s moments away from St John Street, a burgeoning foodie heaven with a plethora of restaurants nearby that include St John, Hix Oyster & Chop House, Smith of Smithfields, Bird of Smithfield, Polpo, Burger and Lobster and newcomer Portal a Portuguese restaurant. If you’re up for clubbing Fabric nightclub is just down the road too, though it would be a shame not to make the most of a good night’s sleep in the hotel’s comfortable four-poster beds.
The Rookery Hotel is also well situated for shopping as some of London’s best markets are within walking distance. The famous Smithfield Market is just opposite –considering its proximity the hotel is surprisingly pretty quiet. If you’ve got beef with that head to trendy Exmouth Market, another hotspot for foodies, a short walk away. As is Leather Lane Market, home to some great street food that includes the legendary Daddy Donkey Mexican food truck (Sharps always use to rave about it when he worked down the road in Farringdon).
My only gripe about The Rookery Hotel is that breakfast isn’t included. You can pay an extra £11.95 per person and have a selection of croissants and pastries delivered to your room. But as you can see as there are so many places to eat nearby in Farringdon which is why we opted to head out and buy our own. If you’re after a grown-up, luxury, romantic getaway in London away from the usual tourist traps The Rookery Hotel is the place to go. One thing is certain, you won’t be slumming it with a stay at the Rookery Hotel.
The beauty of my hidden gems is that they can occur in the least likely of places – most definitely the case when it comes to the best pizza in De Pijp, Amsterdam. It’s no surprise that De Pijp is full of cool bars and restaurants, it is the trendy neighbourhood of Amsterdam after all, but little did I suspect that the best pizza in De Pijp was literally round the corner from where we were staying. I’d walked past Angoletto, an Italian restaurant tucked away on the corner of Hermonystraat on numerous occasions. Sharps had been wanting to check it out for ages. While it looks cute from the outside, there are a couple of wooden tables out front for al fresco dining in the summer, I was a little reticent having checked out the TripAdvisor reviews.
First off people were complaining that it was expensive. Clearly they never eat out in Amsterdam, or if they do they must only ever eat at Febo, if they think that €11 for a pizza in an authentic Italian trattoria in Amsterdam is expensive. Next up people were slagging off the owner of Angoletto, saying it was the best pizza in De Pijp Amsterdam but that the owner was incredibly rude and moody. Perhaps rude and moody mean something else to the Dutch but when we were there the staff were incredibly friendly, including the owner who was busy at work freshly preparing each dish (I was mesmerised by him making the pizza dough). The menu was in Italian and Dutch and being fluent in neither (sadly GCSE Italian doesn’t count) the waitresses were only to happy to help with anything that got lost in translation. Plus we were served complementary bread that included a deliciously doughy bread topped with tomato sauce.
Angoletto doesn’t just serve pizza, it has a range of pasta dishes, salads, fish and meat and specials of the day, all at surprisingly good value for money. While I was tempted by the fish and gnocchi dishes, having heard that Angoletto serves the best pizza in De Pijp it would have been amiss of both of us not to try it. The pizza when it arrived was oozing with cheese, the base not too soggy or thick with a crispy crust, and just the right balance of toppings. I ordered a Napolitana (anchovies, capers, olives) with an additional artichoke topping and Sharps went for a meaty sausage pizza, and would be more than fair to say that it’s the best pizza in de Pijp. I also opted for a glass of house wine, served on tap from a huge wooden barrel which, for €3 was pretty decent.
What I also loved about the Angoletto restaurant is that it really is an Amsterdam hidden gem. It’s cosy, with about eight tables all close together, and additional seating upstairs and this also creates a sociable atmosphere. Because Angoletto is a hidden gem you won’t fond any tourists here, it’s an Amsterdam local neighbourhood restaurant.
We ended up chatting to two ladies on the next table who had lived in De Pijp all their lives and were regulars. They told me people didn’t like Angoletto because they felt it was dated. To me the wooden tables, pictures of fish and vegetables on the walls and quirky objects (I especially liked a lamp that was in the shape of grapes) only add to its charm. All I can say is it’s their loss as not only are they missing out on a pizzeria with personality, they’re also missing out on the best pizza in De Pijp.
Having seen mixed reviews on Trip Advisor about Plantation Gardens in Poipu, Kauai, I was torn about whether to go there for dinner but I’m so glad I did as I’d have missed out on the best cocktails in Kauai otherwise. On the one hand the location of Plantation Gardens sounded an ideal Hawaiian hidden gem, a restaurant in an old plantation house. But on the other the food and service hadn’t got the best reception. As I’m always inclined to take what I read on their with a pinch of salt, people love to complain about the silliest of things, I decided it would be worth investigating. I was subsequently thrilled when the Plantation Gardens very kindly invited to host us for dinner as their guests, and even more so after sampling the best cocktails in Kauai.
If you’re staying in Poipu, in the south of Kauai, Plantation Gardens is ideally situated as it’s close to the main shopping centre, virtually across the road from it. From our base of The Grand Hyatt, it was about a 25 minute walk, or a 5-minute taxi ride (around $10). What struck me most about the Plantation Gardens is its setting. As its name suggests, the restaurant, which dates back to the 1930s, was formerly a historic manor house on the grounds of the Koloa Plantation, Hawaii’s first sugar plantation.
One thing people failed to mention on Trip Advisor, or anywhere else, were the cocktails at Plantation Gardens. These alone made Plantation Gardens a hidden gem. They may not look much from my photos but they were by far the best cocktails in Kauai or that we had on our entire trip to Hawaii. I’d definitely recommend checking out the bar here if nothing else.
Our waiter at one of Kauai’s other well known restaurants confided that the staff there often came down after work for drinks as the cocktails are so good. After much deliberation I opted for a Pacific Dragon – Dragonfruit Skyy vodka, tamarind, strawberry served with the piece de resistance, a Hawaiian sweet chilli sugar rim, which gave the cocktail a sherbety feel as the sugar slowly dissolved in my mouth leaving a hot sweet and sour aftertaste. It was so good I just had to order another.
Sharps plumped for the Plantation Breeze – Mandarin vodka, creme de banana, peach schnapps, passion fruit and guava juice. I’m not a fan of creamy cocktails (or banana) but in the interests of research I obliged to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised. The banana flavouring was subtle and didn’t overpower the cocktail and it hit just the right balance as it wasn’t too creamy or heavy. So I surreptitiously took a few more sips when Sharps wasn’t looking. How these cocktails were overlooked by diners is beyond me as not only were they the best cocktails in Kauai they were the most inventive drinks I’ve come across in a long while.
Foodwise it has to be said that Sharps excelled himself. A word of warning, portion sizes at Plantation Gardens are massive. His starter of Kuala pork sliders, there were three, was a meal in itself, and he did a pretty good job of polishing them off. Not that I’ve got much room to talk as I devoured a generous serving of tuna ahi poke, fresh raw tune cubes served with avocado, cucumber, seaweed and a mango coulis which for me was the star dish.
Sharps also managed to do some serious damage to the chef’s trio – seafood lau lau which included scallops and jumbo shrimp with brown rice, grilled fresh fish in a red curry sauce and pot roast while I oped for the special of the day. But we were both so stuffed we had to draw the line at dessert. Sadly it also meant we were too full to fit in an after dinner cocktail which was a shame as if our earlier cocktails were anything to go by these would also be some of the best cocktails in Kauai.
Montenegro isn’t exactly known as being a culinary destination, which is what makes Montenegro’s best restaurant, Catovica Mlini, even more of a hidden gem. I’d read there was a fish restaurant located in an old mill that was supposed to be Montengro’s best restaurant. It sounded awesome, and not just the food – it even had it’s own duck pond.
As neither of us drive I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered Catovica Mlini was accessible by bus from where we were staying in Kotor Bay and even luckier when they very kindly invited us as their guests to go for lunch. Monetengro’s best restaurant is about a 40-minute bus ride from Kotor (catch the bus that takes the coastal route to Herceg Novi). Or if you’re feeling flush taxis are in abundance in Kotor Bay. Our first challenge, was getting off at the right stop. Catovica Mlini is located in the little village of Morinj and we (I) was paranoid the driver would forget to tell us. The bus was quite full so I managed to ask someone to tell us when we got there just in case as buses don’t hang around.
Finding the restaurant itself was pretty easy, the huge road signs, and arrows painted on the road made it virtually impossible to miss. But we weren’t quite prepared for what we saw when we turned the final corner, as tucked away off the main road was a real hidden gem.
Catovina Mlini is renowned for its fish. Our waiter at Montenegro’s best restaurant couldn’t have been more accommodating, patiently trying to understand that I can’t eat shellfish. He told us he had worked at the restaurant for 14 years and was incredibly knowledgeable about the mill’s history and all of the dishes.
My starter of tuna carpaccio, wafer-thin slithers of tuna that looked almost like prosciutto topped a peppery rocket leaf salad with juicy capers. Sharps was also treated to a selection of octopus salad, fish pate, fish mousse.
We shared a main course of fresh fish, grilled and the succulent white meat. By now we were fit to burst but of course we somehow managed to find room for dessert. Sharps decided on the apple strudel while I went for the chocolate souffle. Catovina Mlini also has a huge selection of wines to choose from, and we dared to try two different types of grappa, normal grappa and one with herbs in it.
What makes the Old Mill Montenegro’s best restaurant, apart from the quality of the food and the impeccable service, is its setting. There are indeed ducks, you can see them swimming in the brook. There are also peacocks, boats, and various walks you can take along the paths to try and burn off some of the food you’re bound to have overindulged in. It was raining the day we were there but it didn’t make any difference as we were happy to sit back and relax undercover in the tranquil grounds, taking leisurely lunch to the extreme with a stay of about 3½hrs.
Considering all of the above I was expecting Catovina Mlini to be pretty expensive. Inside you can see photos of celebrities who have eaten here (Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Novak Djokovic to namedrop just a few), plus there’s a helicopter pad in the grounds. But I was (pleasantly) shocked to see that the prices were relatively similar to the higher end restaurants in Kotor Bay, like the Restaurant Galion. We both agreed we would by far prefer to be eating at this hidden gem and what is easily Montenegro’s best restaurant.