As I’ve previously mentioned I didn’t have high hopes when it came to Belgrade’s culinary scene. Serbian food pretty much consists of meat, meat and more meat so I was pretty surprised to learn about Radost, a vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade, and even more determined to seek out this Belgrade hidden gem. Easier said than done in Belgrade. For starters this vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade doesn’t have a website, though it does have a Facebook page so I was able to get the address.
I worked out from the map that it seemed to be quite close to the Belgrade Fortress. I suggested to Sharps that we try it for lunch after checking out the views of Belgrade. We managed to locate the street we thought Radost was on but then we came unstuck. Some street names were in Cyrillic making it quite difficult to get your bearings. Fortunately a friendly passerby showed us the way. It turned out he actually pointed us in the wrong direction but he was so helpful we didn’t mind. And, to be fair, we hadn’t told him what number we wanted to go to.
Eventually we found what we thought was Pariska 3 but we were perplexed. It was clearly a house or block of flats, with no sign of a restaurant anywhere. I double checked the address. According to my research this was the place where there should be a vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade. Cautiously opened the door and went inside. Our suspicions were confirmed as we found ourselves in the entrance hall of some flats. I even checked the mailboxes to see if the name of the restaurant was on them to no avail. Perhaps it was all a ruse and there wasn’t a vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade after all.
Forced to admit defeat we were just on our way out when we saw a guy come in through the front door. I showed him the address and asked him if he’d heard of this mythical vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade as we couldn’t find it. And as if by magic it turned out he was in fact its owner, he’d been out to buy the food for the day. The reason we hadn’t been able to find Radost is because as we rightly guessed it’s actually housed inside a flat. There is a sign for it on the front door but it’s quite easy to miss.
We certainly weren’t prepared for what we saw as we entered the door, a contemporary space full of lots of cool and quirky objects. Everywhere we looked there were hidden gems – a row of gold wellies underneath a vintage cabinet, a mannequin wearing a top hat, fedora hats on lights to name but a few.
As promised the menu was also totally vegetarian with vegan meals too. It’s not fine dining, dishes included Mexican tortillas, spinach and tofu tart or Ramen soup, but it is wholesome hearty vegetarian fare. I opted for a Thai salad, cold noodles cooked in coconut milk with tofu, a huge portion but a bit on the disappointing side as it lacked in flavour. This could easily have been rectified by a bit more of the coconut milk dressing, there seemed to be a small clump of at the bottom of my bowl, and more tofu as I think I found three small pieces.
Sharps’ food, a vegan burger freshly made from mushrooms, onions and seeds by contrast was packed full of flavour and served with a fruity couscous. He very graciously offered that we share both dishes so I could enjoy it too. All of the cooking is done by two girls, they prepare the dishes to order behind the counter where you can see them hard at work, so you’ll need to be patient. Our friendly waitress told us that this vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade has been open since December and caters predominantly for foreign tourists (it’s also worth noting that it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). Radost means happiness in Serbian and this vegetarian restaurant in Belgrade made one veggie visitor to its capital very happy indeed.
Following on from my blog post about Reykjavik’s best restaurant I thought I’d move my attention over to Reykavik’s best bars as while I was there I came across a couple of hidden gems I’d recommend stopping off for a drink at.
First up is the Laundromat Cafe. One of Reykjavik’s best bars, this is an achingly cool hotspot that wouldn’t be amiss in London’s Soho. Laundromat is kitted out like an American diner with red booths, maps on the wall, magazine racks and a bar area consisting of books shelves. Foodwise it serves up an unNordic sounding menu that includes sandwiches, fries, burgers and shakes, although my friend Matt also wholeheartedly recommended the fish soup. As well as being one of Reykjavik’s best bars, with its generous portions the Laundromat Cafe is famous for serving the best brunch in Reykjavik.
In the evenings the Laundromat Cafe attracts quite a young crowd. We were there for drinks on a Wednesday night and it was still pretty packed, not least because it’s free to get in and stays open late (3am on Fridays and Saturdays and 1am the rest of the week), though they stop serving food at 10pm.
Head down the stairs and you’ll discover why it’s called the Laundromat Cafe (the clue is in the name). Once your eyes adjust to the bright red walls you’ll find working washing machines where you can do self-service laundry. You can buy washing powder at the bar. Modelled on the Laundromat Cafe in Copenhagen, Denmark, which opened in 2004, the Reykjavik branch of the Laundromat Cafe opened a couple of years ago. This hidden gem is brilliant for travellers as you can have a beer or a coffee and soak up the atmosphere of the main bar upstairs while you’re waiting for your clothes to wash. And there’s also a big playroom area that caters for kids too.
But of all of Reykjavik’s best bars my favourite was a tiny bar/café directly across the road from our hotel called Tiu Dropar (meaning ten drops). We accidentally stumbled across it as we fancied going out for a drink but were too tired to venture far from home.
What makes this place one of Rekjavik’s best bars ,and one of Iceland’s hidden gems, is that despite its location on Reykjavik’s main shopping street and tourist trail it’s easy to miss. Look out for a little side door leading to the bar, tucked away downstairs.
Reykjavik is a pretty cool capital city, especially considering its size but from the moment we sat down in Tiu Dropar we felt straight at ease. The barman told me Tiu Dropar has been open for over 30 years, making it one of Reykjavik’s oldest cafes. It has a distinct retro vibe, complete with black and white photographs adorning the walls, a radio in the background playing old-fashioned music, beaded lampshades and shelves lined with teapots.
We were there in the evening and found it a great place to come and chill out with friends. It’s a lot less hectic than some of the other bars and attracts a slightly older crowd. It’s also a popular daytime hangout. I was gutted that I’d missed out on the lunchtime menu which included a delicious sounding Belgian waffle with rhubarb jam and cream. What also surprised me is that despite it being around for so long nobody mentioned it to me last time I was in Reykjavik, making it one of my Rekjavik hidden gems.
There’s been lots of buzz at the moment about 5and33 Amsterdam, a new bar and restaurant concept that’s part of the eagerly awaited, Art O’tel Amsterdam. Especially as it’s been a while since a new hotel opened its doors in Amsterdam.
This made an invitation to check out this new restaurant, 5and33 Amsterdam, all the more exciting. Before dinner I took the opportunity to explore the brand new Art O’tel. Location-wise, you can’t get more central than the Art O’tel – its rooms look out towards central station. Despite its proximity I noticed it was still relatively quiet. You can still hear the ding of tram bells in the background but there’s a high probability of hearing these if you’re close to, or on, a main road.
What I loved about the Art O’tel Amsterdam, and what makes it a hidden gem for me, is the attention to detail and little touches. Created by Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout, pieces around the theme the ‘course of life’, representing different stages of the human journey, are dotted around this Amsterdam design hotel. Artwork includes various sculptures giving birth. Downstairs, the Art O’tel also plays host to its very own art gallery. Exhibitions are free and open to both guests and locals alike, with the aim of exhibits changing every couple of months. There’s also a gallery shop where people can buy works on display.
I was also mesmerised by the really cool interactive wall curtains. The shapes and patterns changed as I wildly flailed my arms around. The reception area, three heads as opposed to a main desk to give it a less informal feel, is also pretty cool – guests can check in by ipad in the lounge.
At dinner we were lucky enough to be seated at the chef’s table, so we had a ringside view in the open-plan restaurant of the culinary masters at work plating up (the food is actually prepared behind the scenes in the kitchen). I loved the little oven in the back that was used to keep burgers warm.
Unusually for a Dutch restaurant the service was impeccable. Our waiter was incredibly knowledgeable about all of the dishes and happy to make personal recommendations of his favourites 5and33 Amsterdam dishes. This may be because many of the key staff had been brought over from the Tozi restaurant, Park Plaza Victoria London, part of the same hotel group.
The concept is Mediterranean tapas style sharing plates. We were advised to order five or six between us. Bearing in mind that we were in the centre of Amsterdam, in possibly one of the most touristy areas, I was pleasantly surprised by how good value 5and33 Amsterdam is. Plates vary on average from between €5 to €12 with the star dish for me being the yellowtail fish with borlotti beans and chard.
Sharps particularly enjoyed his lamb cutlet, served with coarse, chunky babaganoush, and braised ox cheeks on a bed of creamy mash with girolles mushrooms (both recommended by our waiter). He definitely had a case of food envy when he saw what the table behind were having – a gigantic slab of meat accompanied by huge artichokes and potatoes. Luckily this €79 dish was for four people so I didn’t have to feel guilty about him not being able to try it because I don’t eat meat. But he got over it when his dessert, tiramisu with lashings of cream, arrived.
As well as the restaurant, 5and33 Amsterdam has a lounge area, a library (where guests can also check in) and a bar – it’s possible to order food in any of these and again you don’t need to be staying at the Art O’tel to hang out in them. There are plans afoot for a new Art O’tel in Hoxton, Shoreditch. If this Amsterdam hidden gem is anything to go by it’s bound to go down well with the London’s arty types too.
Jericoacoara, it seems, is like the Holy Grail to Brazilians. Whenever we mentioned we were going to Jericoacoara, or had been, people stood, mouths agog, in envy. For those not in the know Jericoacoara is a hidden gem located about a six-hour drive from Fortaleza on Brazil’s North East coast. It’s only about eight years since this tiny village, which pretty much consists of about six sandy lanes, got electricity and the last leg of the journey to the mecca that is Jericoacoara involves a 45 minute drive by 4×4 truck (or buggy) as it’s still not yet accessible by car.
But despite its size, there is an overwhelming choice when it comes to accommodation in Jeri, so deciding where to stay can be tricky, especially when there isn’t much by way of info on some of the pousadas. Fortunately I came across the best pousada in Jericoacoara, the Agapanthus. A gorgeous, boutique-style hotel, it’s set in the most amazing location, right opposite Jeri’s famous sunset dune.
What makes the Agapanthus a hidden gem and the best pousada in Jericoacoara is that although it’s close to all the action, you’re about a minute’s walk from the beach, it’s on a quiet street which feels worlds away from the party vibe of the neighbouring village ‘centre’ packed with bars and restaurants. In fact the only noise we heard was from some braying donkeys outside.
With just six contemporary rooms the Agapanthus Pousada is quite intimate. It’s a great place if you’re looking for a romantic hotel in Jeri. All rooms have air con and a fan and a fridge. And the shower was one of my favourites of all the places we stayed in Brazil. The pebble-dash floor contrasting against the white tiles and the glass door adding a sense of space and light into the bathroom. The Agapanthus is one of Jeri’s newer pousdasas. Opened in 2010 by Roberta and Mario, a lovely Italian couple (who invited me to be their guest at the Agapanthus) the pair fell in love with Jeri, having visited it three times previously, and decided to make it their home.
Even though it’s ridiculously close to the beach the Agapanthus Pousada also has its own small pool with sunloungers. Perfect as there were days when, in the sweltering heat (that’s my defence anyway), I couldn’t even be bothered to walk to the beach. And of course the views of the Jeri’s sunset beach are phenomenal from the Agapanthus Pousada. Whether you’re enjoying breakfast on the terrace (a good selection of juices, cereal, eggs or tapioca, cakes and bread) or watching people climb it as the sun goes down – local legend claims if you watch the sunset from the top of the dune and make a wish as it sets it will come true.
You’ll find accommodation to suit all budgets in Jeri (don’t be afraid to try and haggle as you may be able to get yourself a further discount). While the Agapanthus Pousada isn’t the cheapest pousada in Jeri it’s not the most expensive either, and it’s great value for money. Sadly we were only able to stay at the Agapanthus for a couple of nights as we managed to coincide our trip with a Brazilian public holiday – something to avoid at all costs as prices rocket and accommodation is scarce.
But of all of the four (yes four) pousadas we stayed at during out eight days in Jeri (everywhere was booked up in advance), the Agapanthus Pousada was definitely the best pousada in Jericoacora, and one of Jeri’s hidden gems, especially given its unparalleled access to the dune.
One of my absolute favourite early morning dishes is kedgeree. But for some reason it isn’t that commonly featured on most of London’s breakfast or brunch menus. So you can imagine my excitement when I spotted it on the menu at Le Chandelier, a hidden gem of a restaurant in East Dulwich.
Le Chandelier is on East Dulwich’s Lordship Lane, home to an array of bars, delis and restaurants, but for me it’s Le Chandelier that really stands out.
First off I love the decor. A variety of grand chandeliers hang from the ceilings downstairs and the mismatched furniture, exposed brickwork, blue and green mosaics and bright skylight gives the space a quaint country house kitchen feel to it.
In contrast, upstairs has more of a Moroccan vibe going on, with terracota-plastered walls, cushions and couches lining the room all the way round and small metal tables that wobble as a result of the fan on the floor below. Vases full of plastic flowers and little lights lining the staircase add the finishing touches.
And it’s not just the interior that makes Le Chandelier a hidden gem. The food is pretty good too. My portion of kedgeree was a huge portion of basmati rice with a hint of curry was served with generous chunks of smoked haddock, shredded egg, parsley and onion with an accompaniment of mango sauce.
Sharps’ brunch dish looked (and tasted) so good I was on the brink of food envy. His eggs royale, perfectly cooked poached eggs smothered in rich, creamy hollandaise sauce on a bed of thick-cut smoked salmon on thick sourdough bread toast was divine. The only disappointment was the coffee machine was broken so we had to make do with filter coffee instead of cappuccino.
If you’re a tea drinker you’ll be spoilt for choice by the rows of teas on display (including some flowering teas). And if you’re there between 3-6pm you could opt for one of the afternoon teas. Le Chandelier is a great place for a leisurely brunch in East Dulwich which is just as well as this one hidden gem you’ll want to take your time over.