Tag Archive for: Hotels

I came late to The New Forest National Park and it has found a nest in my heart. This 550sq km patch of ancient England is an all-year-round destination, but autumn is particularly alluring when the russet woodland plays host to Pannage. This is the practice of releasing domestic pigs into a forest (also known as ‘common of mast’), dating back to the reign of William the Conqueror, who founded The New Forest in 1079.

In this case up to 600 pigs are released to eat fallen acorns, beechmast, chestnuts and other nuts, which are poisonous to the ponies, donkeys and cattle which roam the forest. The season started in September and finishes on 18 November. It is the only time of year that the pigs are allowed to ‘roam’ – around the same time those commoner-owned native ponies are rounded up, some headed for auction. 

This New Forest breed is most often associated with this former royal hunting ground. Pigs, though, have their own special status, too. Just to watch the wilded beasties wolfing down acorns is enough to induce dreams of free range pork products There is a good reason celebrated hotel/restaurant chain The Pig, with its stalwart commitment to local produce, first took root in the heart of the Forest, just outside Brockenhurst. 

A glance at the original Pig’s ’25 mile’ menus reveals a Saddleback crackling snack, starters of Pannage Coppa or home-made black pudding, a Tile Bar Farm pork chop main and my favourite, Crispy Chilli Pork Belly, Garden Leaves, Makers Honey and Greenhouse Chilli – locally reared and grown ingredients, with zero-mile produce picked from their own kitchen garden.

A whole chapter of founder Robert Hutson’s The Pig Cookbook (Octopus, £30) is given over to ‘Porkology’, a snout to tail guide tackling the various breeds they farm and their kitchen uses, particularly charcuterie. Chef Director at The Pig James Golding even teamed up with a third generation local family butcher, Alan Bartlett, to create a curing company called A Pinch of Salt.

Which brings us to a more traditional outlet for all that pork. ‘Mr Bartlett’s Hampshire Hogs’ have a case to be the perfect bangers to match with mash. The recipe date back to Alan’s great grandfather. Jame and his team can’t resist updating the ‘secret’ blend with the addition of (my favourite spice) fennel pollen plus elephant garlic (think a cross between standard garlic and leek).

Hampshire Hogs

Ingredients: 100g breadcrumbs, rapeseed, 25g seasoning (roughly 20g salt, 5g sugar, a pinch each of sage, thyme and garlic powder), 700g boneless pork shoulder (80% lean, 20% fatty), 150ml cold water, sausage casings.

Method: Fry the breadcrumbs with a little oil until golden brown. Mince the meat straight onto the crumbs, adding the water. Mince again. Tie one end of a sausage casing with string, then insert the narrow part of a wide-necked funnel in the other end. With the back of a wooden spoon push the meat through the funnel into the skin. Once it’s full remove the funnel and tie the end. Pinch and twist into four individual sausages, then link and tie with with string. Overnight in the fridge. Best cooked over charcoal.

Enough ‘snouts in the trough’. So who needs Vermont when you’ve got the New Forest?

There are are many good places to walk and witness the autumn colours. Try the following. Hightown Common, located near Poulner in the Forest’s north, is perfect for experiencing colour on trees, from the brilliant yellow of the birches to the last clumps of purple heather and the delicate tracery of the dying brackens. The walk starts off by passing a clump of gorse bushes, which provide beautiful colour and a distinctive coconut scent. Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is probably the best-known road in the whole of the forest.  Considered by many as the ultimate autumn colour-burst, the drive was planted in 1860 and offers colour and wonder all year round, as well as the Forest’s tallest tree. Time it right, and you can also proceed on to Blackwater Arboretum to see the falling leaves twirl and float into the pond there.

Staying in the New Forest

Many of the forest’s accommodation providers offer good deals to fill beds in the autumn ‘shoulder season’, and quieter roads, pubs and restaurants make it the perfect time for a short break. One place I’d heartily recommend is the four-star Balmer Lawn Hotel (above). This is currently offering three nights for the price of two until the end of November 2022. The break costs from £145 per person, B&B, based on two people sharing a room, and  also includes full use of the leisure facilities including indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, jacuzzi and gym. Pigs can be spotted very close to the hotel, and some rooms are dog friendly (though dogs should be on leads where there are pigs.)

We stayed at Balmer Lawn on our pre-Pandemic voyage of discovery. Here’s my report on that equally enchanting spring visit – Tall Trees and A Small Dog in The New Forest. For further information on the area visit the New Forest website.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet novels were set in a gritty, poverty-stricken Fifties Naples still recovering from the War. I came later than most to the best-selling saga of Elena and Lila, then devoured its 550,000 words with all the gusto I had brought to road-testing the pizzas of that chaotic, hypnotic city. 

Seventy years ago, as now, an idyllic escape route was offered by the hour ferry ride across the Gulf to Ischia. It was on a moonlit beach there that Elena lost her virginity in The Story of a New Name. My solo visit to this 17-square mile island out in the Bay of Naples was less life-changing but quite unforgettable.

Ischia teems with other ghosts – cinematic, musical and literary. This volcanic outcrop of hot springs and mud treatments may lack the sheer chocolate box glamour of rival Capri, but what an exotic, sometimes louche, backdrop it has been to the lives of numerous creative mavericks.

Capri boasts homespun Gracie Fields; Ischia WH Auden, William Walton, Luchino Visconti and their luminous guests. OK, much of this celebrity action was back in the Fifties and Sixties, when it was not the developed tourist destination it is today. The same is true of so many Mediterranean boltholes, yet against the odds Ischia retains a special dolce vita allure.

It helps that it has acted as location for at least 30 movies. It also hosts two annual film festivals. I gasped when I first reached Ischia Ponte, the picturesque extension of the island’s capital, Ischia Porte, and gazed upon the iconic citadel, Castello Aragonese, rearing 300ft above the sea across its causeway. Instantly recognisable from film noir The Talented Mr Ripley, where Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow play out their sardonic, sun-kissed endgame.

Off-screen movie melodrama came to Ischia four decades before when Richard Burton and Liz Taylor conducted their very open and controversial public affair on the island during the filming of Cleopatra in 1962. At the Bar Mara Caffe Internazionale in Forio town there’s no recognition they were once visitors alongside a starry cast that included Charlie Chaplin, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis.

The regular presence at Maria’s Cafe of great English poet Auden is marked by a framed photo with then owner Maria Senese, while other visitors have terrace tables named after them. I sipped a wheat beer with my legs under ‘Truman Capote’. Auden lived nearby in the summer with boyfriend Chester Kallman, forming a gay enclave that sometimes scandalised residents of this workaday port.

There is no trace left of the house they rented, so I pursued my quest for Ischia’s bohemian past by walking north along the coast back to my hilltop hotel base, San Montano Resort & Spa via two surviving monuments to artistic giants. It was a stiff climb up to the pine-clad Zaro promontory in the north east of the island that is home both to film director Luchino Visconti’s Moorish-style villa, La Colombaia (The Dovecot), and Oldham-born composer Sir William Walton’s world famous garden, La Mortella (The Myrtles).

La Colombaia, set deep in forested grounds, was rescued from a decade of neglect and relaunched as a museum and international school of film and theatre 20 years ago. In these difficult times the whole complex is closed, possibly for good. The ghosts remain. Here the rampantly bisexual director held open house. If walls could tell tales. When Aristotle Onassis ditched Mara Callas for Jackie Kennedy, here Visconti comforted Callas, who he had directed in La Traviata at La Scala. All three were his friends and frequent house guests.

A couple of miles away is a place with an altogether less turbulent past. The gardens of La Mortella were 50 years in the making. In 1958 Lady Susana Walton started transforming a quarry on the property her husband Sir William had bought, opening it to the public in 1991. Today, run by a private foundation, it is a spectacular sub-tropical and mediterranean garden featuring a working concert amphitheatre, a museum devoted to the composer (best known for Facade and Belshazzar’s Feast) and his pyramid-shaped tomb overlooking the sea. I liked the risque murals in the quasi pagan ‘Temple of the Sun’ and the world’s largest water lily, the gender-bending victoria amazonica, that flowers in the morning as a white petalled female and later in the day reopens as deep crimson petals and male organs. 

If you visit one attraction in Ischia, make it La Mortella, but note it is shut to the public from until April 2 2022. During the winter month the garden can be visited via a guided tour each Thursday. You must book in advance.

I was lucky it was an hour’s walk away from marvellous San Montano,which itself boasts a spectacular outlook in all directions. Down to its private beach 100m below or along the coast towards Ischia Porte. Perfect for sunrises and sunsets. My room with its own balcony shared these sublime vistas.

It is such a haven much of the clientele seemed happy to while away the afternoons around the fabulous pool complex or make full use of the light-filled Ocean Blue Spa with its hand-made Vietri tiles before dining in formal but relaxed style al fresco on the terrace. Dishes featuring plenty of fish, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, salad and herbs offered a deft take on traditional local cuisine. The local produce is magnificent.

A dinner excursion down to Lacco Amena town was exciting, too. Here at the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the Ristorante Indaco locally-born chef Pasquale Palamaro offers challenging tasting menus. It is situated in the L’Albergo della Regina Isabella, the only hotel on the island with its own beach – and a sense of a glorious celeb past. 

Both hotels have fabulous wine lists showcasing Campania on the mainland and Ischia’s own specific grape heritage. Key local producer is the acclaimed D’Ambra winery, which has championed varieties native to the island such as Biancolella, Forastera, and Rilla white varieties, and Piedirosso and Guarnaccia for reds.

I tasted the range in the company of Andrea d’Ambra, who is assisted in th winemaking these days by his daughters Marina and Sara, then went on a vertiginous car ride up  to the Frassitelli vineyard that is their pride and joy, four hectares clinging to a mountainside 600m up en route for Monte Epomeo, the slumbering volcano that dominates the island. Great walking all around, aided by a colour-coded footpath network.

Frassitelli, the flagship white produced here from Biancolella, also hits the heights. Peachy on the nose, it is piercingly fruity, with a hint of salt, on the palate. Visconti helped design distinctive labels for D’Ambra when they were finding their feet in markets beyond the island.

 Visible from the vineyards on the southern coast is Sant’Angelo, loveliest spot on the island. All whitewashed cubes and pricey boutiques and fish restaurants, it lies on an isthmus in the lee of a volcanic hump (they are everywhere – Lacco Amena has a tufa outcrop called Il Fungo because it resembles a mushroom. 

Here most of all on this lush, less developed side Ischia lives up to its sobriquet of the Emerald Isle. No cars or buses are allowed in Sant’Angelo, so it is a tranquil spot to people watch on the beach or grab a beer and a pizza.

I covered so much of the island on foot there was no time left to take to the hot springs. Those in the know recommend Negombo, which is next door to San Montano’s private beach. This ‘thermal garden’ covers 22 hectares with a variety of mineral baths, jacuzzi and Turkish bath. You buy a day pass. Probably a great place to relax and gather your strength before being ferried back from vibrant, villagey Ponte Ischia (below) to the urban maelstrom that is Naples.

Getting there

I flew into Naples and then travelled to Ischia by Alilauro hydrofoil on the 9th at 2.35pm (alt 3.30). Get there 45 minutes before and tell them you have luggage. Alilauro ticket office is at Molo Beverello (Napoli’s Port).

A version of this article first appeared on Manchester Confidential.

I’ve been contemplating ice this week. No, not the hazardous stuff that comes with the wind chill factor and a chance of compound fracture. More the gleaming pure lozenge enveloped by a Negroni.

I’m greeted by one on my arrival at Mecanica, our server Ellie embellishing with “We’ve heard you’re partial to one”. Two or three actually, but I’m at the bar to sample a range of the creative house cocktails, not a stone cold classic. Though like any cocktail bar worth its salt they’ll rustle up whatever you request.

Wine was the selling point of the previous occupant of this site on the busy corner of Oldham Street and Swan Street, but The Quick Brown Fox was never busy and shut all too quickly. I can see Mecanica having a less transitory shelf life – as one of Manchester’s key cocktail destinations. Which bring us to the nice ice touch.

It was such a sparkling snug fit I assumed my Negroni (Martin MIller gin, Campari, Cocchi) was sharing the tumbler with one of those bought-in designer ice cubes. Arch rivals Schofield’s Bar source theirs from Chas Ayres’ cutting edge Black Ice CPD Ltd.

No, like Speak In Code bar, another of the city’s cocktail elite, Mecanica make their own. General manager Phil Aldridge (pictured above) explained: “We use a process known as ‘directional freezing’ where we take a container thats insulated on all sides apart from one, this means the ice freezes from the top down forcing the impurities to the bottom (as the more impurities in the water the lower the freezing point).

“We then remove this from the freezer, dispose of the unclear ice and then break down the clear ice into smaller more manageable pieces by hand. These are then hand chipped down into the perfect size for our rocks glass. Its time consuming and takes a lot of keeping on top of, but it’s cheaper than buying it in and infinitely more rewarding.”

The same attention to detail goes into the in-house preparation of most of the cocktail ingredients (of which more later). It takes a dedicated, trained staff to make this work and all six bartenders get a picture testimonial in the Team section of the website. This add-on always reminds me of those movies where the closing credits incorporate snapshot epilogues of what  will happen to all the characters in the future.

But instead of ‘died in Vietnam’ or ‘became an itinerant preacher man’ it namechecks each’s favourite cocktail. Zombie is Ellie’s, which is appropriately cineaste, since two concoctions she has created for the Mecanica list are film-themed. We also tried tipples from Dom, Jack and Adam (Phil and Rory, promise we’ll sample your contributions next time).

See You in Half an Hour (£9.50) is a fruity mix of Suze Aperitif, St Germain, Chazalettes bianco vermouth, with a red wine float and and almond mist for their aromatic qualities. “Reproducing the visual aesthetic of Wes Anderson’s 2007 short Hotel Chevalier, the drink makes multiple references to the characters’ fleeting romance in the titular backdrop.” Phew.

Well, it has put Hotel Chevalier on my streaming bucket list and I’m glad to confirm Ellie and I are devotees of Anderson’s Grand Hotel Budapest and Ralph Fiennes’ comic tour de force but agree to differ on Isle of Dogs. Not the kind of conversation sparked by 2-4-1 happy hour service in Slug and Lettuce.

The 1981 comedy, Arthur, is Ellie’s inspiration for Between the Moon and New York City (£9.50), definitely my punchy kind of cocktail, incorporating Bulleit rye whiskey,  Bitter Rose Moonshine, all rosehip and elderberry, Cocchi Rosa vermouth and peach bitters. It’s a line from the theme tune to the movie which follows Dudley Moore as a drunken millionaire who spends his days drinking in the hotel room he calls home.

There’s a further comic backdrop to Jack’s A Touch of Class (£11.50), named after the 1975 pilot episode of Fawlty Towers, and so paying homage to Basil Fawlty and the hapless Manuel. Indeed basil herb dominates in a delightful way, adding  surprisingly savoury bacon note to this blend of Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Cocchi Americano vermouth, clementine and champagne.

I loved it. Just the kind of cocktail you’d never get at a hotel of the calibre of Fawlty Towers. ‘Touch of Class’ alludes to Basil’s snobbish aspirations for it. To quote the script… Basil: If we can attract this class of customer then the sky’s the limit. Sybil: Basil, 22 rooms is the limit. Basil: Have you seen the people in room six. They’ve never sat on chairs before.”

The cannier of you may have twigged by now that a connecting theme in all these cocktails is HOTELS. Mecanica declares itself a ‘No-tel’ bar, promising the hotel bar experience without the hotel and yet inspired by the world’s best hotel bars… in sumptuous surroundings. Certainly the sophisticated interior belies the plain frontage but more importantly for me the slightly random hotel pegging doesn’t feel a distracting  imposition.

The theme is up there with Speak In Code current record sleeve inspired drinks menu and the ambitious ‘Japanese Idioms’ list developed by Gethin Jones at Cottonopolis a few years back. I like lists that tell stories.

Fear and Loathing (£10.50) courtesy of Adam, is a rollercoaster a cocktail ride as you’d expect from its inspiration, Hunter S. Thompson’s novel later adapted into the 1998 film featuring Johnny Depp and various oddballs holed up in a hotel sipping Singapore Slings and Mezcal. This bittersweet homage is appropriately in your face, blending Koch Mezcal, D.O.M Benedictine, passion fruit liqueur, a Sipello and grapefruit shot and, a new one for me, citrus squid ink.

You get a subtler but equally powerful buzz from El Convento (£10). It’s based on an actual hotel in a convent building dating back to 1646, neighbour of the oldest cathedral in Puerto Rico. Has creator Dom been there? Or is the Latin holy trinity of olive oil washed Barsol Pisco, Cocchi Americano and pickled chilli just a tot of inspired cultural appropriation?

Finally, a five star hotel I’ve actually stayed in a couple of times – Ashford Castle at Cong in County Galway. It was home to the Guinness family in the 19th century, so the eponymous dark stout features in Dom’s super smooth Ashford Estate (£10) along with nutmeg, orange and Roe & Co Irish Whiskey, whose creamy texture is enhanced by milk washing.

Not a term you’re acquainted with? Olive oil washed too? Let’ close with dip into the behind the scenes teamwork that makes Mecanica quite special.

Over to Phil again, the ringmaster of this project with a CV that impresses (from  Sokyo, a high-end Japanese bar in Sydney to MIchelin-starred Mana in Ancoats):

“For our home made ingredients we use a number of different methods and techniques, the majority of our ‘fresh’ ingredients are made in a water bath that’s heated using an immersion circulator set to around 54 degrees. This is the perfect temperature to both speed up the process of infusing flavour without exposing the ingredients to direct, intense heat. 

“We’re aiming to stay away from the idea of cooking or caramelising, the maillard reaction or anything that will alter the chemical structure of the amino acids and sugar compounds found in our ingredients (unless on purpose of course), changing the fresh flavour we’re trying so hard to preserve. 

“There are processes such as ‘fat washing’, cold infusion and elements of fermentation, shrub and brining included on our menu. We also have access to things like centrifugal juicers and chamber vacuum machines, allowing us to extract flavour from nearly any ingredient we choose to work with, which when you work with the seasons, can be very valuable. 

“We then store everything under vacuum to prevent oxidisation, preserve flavour and cut down on the need for excessive storage space.”

It is not just our restaurants – the likes of Mana, Where The Light Gets In and the Moorcock at Norland – with their foraging, fermenting and passion for ingredients that are the contemporary cutting edge cauldrons. The cocktail scene at Mecanica’s level is equally vibrant.

Mecanica, 1-3 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JJ. 0161 806 1492. Wednesday and Thursday 3pm-12am; Friday and Saturday 12pm-1am; Sunday 12pm-12am. Bar snacks include handmade flatbreads and cheese and charcuterie from the Butcher’ Quarter. The wine list is better than at mot cocktail bar, too. 

Check out Mecanica’s festive packages HERE. Also every advance booking of four or more this New Year’s Eve will receive a complimentary bottle of Prosecco when purchasing a round of cocktails

Destination restaurants in Manchester hotels are almost extinct. The days when Michael Caines had his name over the door at Abode and David Gale ruled Podium at the Hilton further down Piccadilly are long gone. Both now offer standard hotel brasserie fare. As do relative newcomers such as Dakota (though their Grill, well sourced, is surprisingly good), QBIC and Hotel Brooklyn.

Adam Reid, following his mentor Simon Rogan at The French inside the Midland Hotel, continues to fly the flag for Great British Menu style fine dining, but even that failed to make the cut in this year’s Estrella Damm Top 100 UK Restaurants list.

Arguably the city’s most high profile hotel, The Lowry, has dumbed down from the early Noughties days when German chef Eyck Zimmer created some of the finest dishes ever seen in Manchester. Recent restaurant space makeovers there and at the Radisson Edwardian do not equate to a radical upgrade of the food offering. The Peter Street Kitchen at the latter, partnering Mexican and Japanese menus, is a wild card, though. Let’s leave it at that.

Which bring us to Sunday lunches, a perennial draw in hotel dining rooms. Scrap them at your peril. The worst case scenario being carveries, which discreetly we’ll shove on the back burner.

Possibly the best roast in town is inside the Stock Exchange Hotel, at the Bull and Bear. You’d expect that from Tom Kerridge, whose whole ethos trumpets comfort food done with accomplishment. But, though the stunning setting sings ‘destination’, we’re not talking food on a level of his two Michelin star pub in Marlow, The Hand and Flowers.

The Ducie Street Warehouse has relaunched its own Sunday Lunch offering with the added bonus of the UK’s first dedicated Cauliflower Cheese Menu, courtesy of head chef Andrew Green, who has previous in this department. At Mamucium dairy took centre stage one ‘Cheesemas’ with a menu that included a 3kg cheese wheel to share. 

I must admit my arteries wobbled at the though of tackling classic vintage cheddar cauliflower cheese and twists featuring truffle, bacon fizzles, blue cheese (our choice), garlic and herb crusted, macaroni, a totally vegan cauliflower cheese and, the ultimate, a four cheese version with parmesan, gruyere, philadelphia and cheddar. 

Relief came at table when I realised they were all sides at £4.50 a pop. Alternatives included old stagers such as Cumbrian pigs-in-blankets and honey roasted heirloom carrots.

Head chef Andrew Green is a meat and cheese specialist putting his stamp on Ducie Street Warehouse

Glossop-born Andrew has been one of the Manchester chef stalwarts in recent years. Though he started in an Italian restaurant, the rest of his his professional career has been in hotel kitchens, a couple at the Airport before he headed up The Lowry’s and then Mamucium’s. His forte has been meat cooking, notably a classic Beef Wellington, and he has always sourced from top notch butchers such as Mettrick’s, WH Frost and currently The Butcher’s Quarter.

So why am I slightly disappointed in the dry-aged shorthorn beef sirloin and roast supreme of corn fed chicken we share as mains? Small plate starters had signalled a user-friendly, standard, global hotel menu, but our mains didn’t take it up a gear. A pond of all-purpose gravy, chewy roasties and chunky Yorkies didn’t do the meats any favours – the chicken tasty enough but on the dry side, beef sliced in thin wafers needed the lift of the horseradish we requested.

Alternative Sunday mains were rosemary roasted leg of lamb, free-range gammon and a weekly changing vegan roast. You can even order a pick and mix of all four meats on the plate. Nothing to scare the punters but lacking the pizzazz of the setting, the vast stylish ground floor below the Native Hotel.

Slightly more exciting sounding is access to two-to-share offerings that sit in the normal a la carte – harissa spiced whole chicken, miso glazed fish of the day, 800g tomahawk of Cheshire beef or a whole roasted ‘ras el hanout’ cauliflower. 

Bistrotheque was the initial food and beverage offering when Native created 166 apartments in the Grade 11 listed Victorian warehouse back in. It was soon apparent its quirky comfort food at posh prices formula didn’t transfer well from the East London original, so after six months it was ditched and the 80 cover dining room became Restaurant at CULTUREPLEX (the co-working, arty raison d’etre for the rest of the ground floor). Highlight of this manifestation was a pop-up by the cutting edge restaurant team of Higher Ground (now operating Flawd at New Islington Marina). Its front of house expert, Richard Cossins, famously opened Fera at Claridge’s for Simon Rogan. But that was London and this is Manchester,  where the real culinary frissons are rarely to be found inside hotels. Now pass the horseradish.

Sunday with Sides’ is available every Sunday, with special cocktail offers and live music, from 12.30pm to 8.30pm at The Ducie Street Warehouse, 51 Ducie Street, Manchester, M1 2TP.

There are two commanding Bridges in Porto. The most conspicuous is the two-tier Ponte de Dom Luis I, whose metal arch dominates the skyline above the Douro river and links the city to Vila Nova de Gaia, hub of the Port wine industry. Eighty miles upstream are the precipitous vineyards that provide the grapes for the fortified classics and some equally remarkable Douro table wines.

The other Bridge is Adrian, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, whose portfolio includes several Port houses, most notably Taylor’s, and the luxury Yeatman Hotel, all of whose 82 rooms command stunning views of Porto’s World Heritage cityscape. Big thanks to Adrian for arranging our stay there a while back. It boasts a two Michelin star restaurant, ‘library’ of 250,000 bottles, decanter-shaped infinity pool, wine spa… and Taylor’s Port lodge just across the way. Yes, there is a heaven.

But the hotel was just the start of Bridge’s ambitions to turn a workaday wine shippers warehouse district into an oenophile tourist destination to rival Bordeaux’s Cité du Vin. Some £100m later and with necessary pandemic patience after opening in 2020, the World of Wine has certainly injected a WOW! factor to the south bank of Portugal’s second city.  

It’s actually seven linked museums – like the Yeatman, created on repurposed lodge land – that add fashion, chocolate and culture to the wine-led experience which includes an exploration of cork and Bridge’s own collection of vintage and antique drinking vessels. After all of which there is the chance to unwind in one of the site’s nine restaurants with that view, naturally, of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

With travel restrictions easing all this is a magnet for me to return. And beyond WOW so much to enjoy all over again. As a stark contrast, roam the opposite riverfront district of Ribeira. It’s not the rough sailors’ haunt of yore, but the cobbled lanes and ancient dark houses are still far from gentrified as they might be in Lisbon. 

A cynic in me wonders if UNESCO pay a stipend to Porto’s housewives to spend half their day hanging picturesque washing out from their balconies. The flap of laundry is everywhere, high above even the narrowest, shadowiest of passages.

The quickest way up to the city proper is via the Funicular dos Guindais, which brings you out nerar the towering Se Cathedral and the medieval maze of the Barredo district. From here it’s no distance to three of the city’s star turns.

First there’s the Belle Epoque era railway station Sao Bento where azulejos tiles run rampant floor to ceiling, illustrating episodes of Portuguese history. Close by you’ll find one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, Lello, which has a jolly little cafe on the top floor reached by ornate staircases.

Nothing, though, quite prepares you for Sao Francisco on the Rua do Infante D Henrique. The church was begun in the 1300s, but it is the 18th century Baroque interior that amazes. Over 200g of gold encrusts the high altar and pillars, culminating in the ornate carvings of the biblical Tree of Jesse. More sombrely, the opposite wall flaunts some gory images of martyrdom. The ticket includes a visit to the Catacombs that survive from a monastery on the site. Real memento mori stuff, carved skulls atop tombs and a well-stocked ossuary.

It’s a relief then to retreat to Vila Nova for an obligatory Port tasting at Calem and a stroll past the barcos rabelos bobbing on the Douro quayside. These are the traditional flat-bottomed boats once used to transport barrels of Port from the vineyards down to the city. Once it was a seriously dangerous voyage but the Douro has been tamed by locks and dams.


As an add-on to any stay in Porto I’d recommend a trip in the opposite direction–upstream to discover the wonderful scenery and wines of the Douro Valley. Meanwhile, here I recommend a clutch of the region’s opulent reds.

The Yeatman, Rua do Choupelo (Sta. Marinha), 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto.

The Douro region can hit 40 degrees in high summer, so its spectacular terraced vineyards are best suited to the production of rich, full-bodied reds. Traditionally the grapes were destined for Port, notably Touriga Nacional with its ability to withstand heat. The jury’s perennially out on whether it is rewarding a single varietal table red but, blended with the likes of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Bastardo, Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca from the highest sites, its fruity exuberance can be channeled into real elegance.

Thee days you’ll find the Douro increasingly populated with luxury cruise vessels where you can sample such increasingly appreciated wines on board or stopping off at the various quintas (estates) dedicated to wine tourism. 

You can’t stay at the winery of Alves de Sousa, alas. Which is shame since they are spectacularly situated above the winding Douro. Te de Sousa family cultivate their five estates containing 110 hectares of vines, some over 100 years old. The winery, open to visitors is at the Quinta da Gaivosa. Visitors are welcome all year round, by appointment only (+351 254 822 111. The whole range is outstanding.

Our VIP visit culminated in a hair-raising four wheel dusk drive up 1 in 4, rutted mud tracks through pine and eucalyptus forests to the topmost vineyard, which produces their Vinho do Abandonado. Wine of the Abandoned, the first of my five recommended Douro Reds.

The slopes of old vines are a tough terrain to make wine with but the results can be stunning

Alves de Sousa, Abandonado, Douro, Douro Valley, 2015 (£80)

‘Abandoned’ because it took year to recover the 85 year-old site. It was worth the effort. The 2015,  a field blend (mixed vines in one plot) is inky, spicy intense yet surprisingly refined on the palate, with liquorice and black berry dominating. At this price, it’ one for the committed Dourophile. Count me in. All prices below re rrp.

Nat’Cool Voyeur Nierpoot 2019 (£30)

Very much at the opposite end of the Douro spectrum – from the region’s most restless groundbreaker, Dirk Neeport, now dipping his toes into the natural wine sector. Six amphora reds and whites, from vines 40-50 years old, and from six varying sites each year. Each site spent 6 months in 1000L Spanish amphora, lined with beeswax, prior to blending in stainless steel, returning to amphorae for a couple of months, and then bottling with minimal sulphur added. Result is a very fresh red with soft almost silky tannins, pale because of the presence of some white grapes in the blend. It bursts with redcurrant and raspberry fruit but it’s also quite earthy. Worth chilling slightly. If you seek a more traditional Neepoort red go for Redom Tinto 2018 (£40) or the top of the range Batuta 2017 (£80), both of which were in stunning form at a recent Manchester tasting.

Pouring the Quint do Vallado at a tasting in sunny Manchester; below, the even sunnier Vallado estate

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2018 (£33.90)

The entry level Tinto is a field blend too, but I’d recommend upgrading to the Reserva, always one of my favourite Douro reds, from a beautiful estate that dates back to 1716 but has moved with the times by hosting two highly recommended boutique hotels. Their elegance is shared by this fig-scented red that unleashes oodles of cherry and plum fruit.

Quinta de la Rosa Reserve Red 2017 (£38)

This estate upholds the old Portuguese tradition of treading the grapes in granite lagares – before transferring to stainless-steel vats for fermentation. After which it is matured for 20 months in used French oak casks. Result is a medium-bodied charmer with balanced acidity and a beguiling freshness.

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2017 (£29.95)

Complex and concentrated with a strong herbiness, this one needs a a couple of years but its juicy cherry fruit is tempting now. Maybe one to decant. Or just choose a simpler Crasto from lower in the range.


If you ever get the chance travel up the valley from Porto. If you’re driving allow yourself plenty of time. Steepling hairpin bends offer spectacular views but make taxing motoring, particularly if you get stuck behind a tractor. Boat trip, as mentioned, offer a more laidback oenophile odyssey. Then there is the spectacular 175km Linha do Douro rail service up to Pochino by the Spanish border – one of the world’s great train journeys, much of it alongside the broad, swirling river, and on Saturdays offering a steam service from Regua to Tua (www.cp.pt).

Where to stay. In sleepy Pinhão, the heart of the quality vineyard area, where I recommend Vintage House Hotel, sister hotel to The Yeatman in Porto. This fomrer Port warehouse was repurchased and renovated in 2016 by the enterprising Fladgate Partnership, who own 500, hectares of vineyards nearby. So a great base to expand your knowledge of Douro wines.


OK, but let me stray leftfield to White Port. Served chilled, it makes a delightful aperitif. I first discovered its charms while staying at Vintage House. I’ve not drunk the Porto Quevedo since but a beautiful substitute, sharing the same honeyed colour and hints of pear drop on the palate with a long dry finish is The Quinta de la Rosa White Port (£15.95). It would be deceptively easy to sink the whole 50cl bottle but beware it’s 19.5 per cent.

The best foodie guide for any visitor to Portugal, with a strong section on Oporto and the Douro, is The Wine and Food Lovers’ Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter (Inn House Publishing, £16.95).

Portuguese wines. To discover where to buy the finest in Britain visit www.viniportugal.co.uk.

When revolutionaries ambushed and assassinated the Baron of Pädaste, Imperial Hunting Master to Tsar Nicholas II, in 1919 it froze in time the manor house that was his summer home. History, often bloody history, now passed it by.

Axel von Buxhoeveden’s heartbroken widow, the Siemens heiress Charlotte, left to live in Germany, never to return, and as a turbulent century saw Estonia crushed by war and Soviet domination, medieval Pädaste Manor sank slowly into decay. Destined, it seemed, to be submerged in the marshes of Muhu island. Trees took root in its lofty halls.

But like the sleeping beauty in the fairytale it has been magically reawakened as a hotel, mirroring the Baltic state itself shaking off the years of repression, rediscovering its roots.

If the beautiful heart of capital Tallinn has turned into a kind of tourist toytown, seducing the cruise ship parties (the stag and hen hordes have thankfully moved on), then Muhu and the other islands out to the west seem the keepers of Estonia’s rebellious pagan flame against a backdrop of the brooding Baltic Sea.

We arrived to stay at Pädaste Manor, now a five-star luxury hideaway like no other, a couple of weeks before the great celebration of the White Nights, 19 hours of daylight demanding much tree-hugging and vodka swilling. It hits you that Christianity was late coming to these northerly parts.

Wild boar and moose roam the woods of Muhu, along with the huntsmen who track them. Rare butterflies flit among the juniper trees, even rarer orchids carpet the woodland clearings. Half of Estonia is forest, a valuable source of mushrooms and herbs. A wild larder just waiting to be foraged. A landscape with much to tell.

One man who has listened is Martin Breuer. A quarter of a century ago the erudite Dutchman had a vision for Pädaste. It has taken a lot of sweat and toil to realise it, along with a welcome cash injection from the European Union.

The result is captivating. We arrived late. A journey from capital Tallinn that had promised to take little over two hours on blissfully quiet roads had been extended by our foolishly not taking the pre-booked lane on the Virtsu quayside.

We missed the boat and looked like missing lunch, but Kuivastu where the next ferry dropped us is just 10 minutes from Pädaste and the Manor kitchen stayed open to accommodate us. Our first taste of the Manor’s take on ‘Nordic Islands’ cuisine. 

Nordic Islands’ cuisine – venison tartare with Muhu Island’s ‘bottarga’ (cured fish roe)

Think good game and fish, wild greens, birch sap, all palate-tinglingly pure. The hotel’s ground floor Alexander Restaurant has regularly been voted Estonia’s best and goes from strength to strength under current Chef de Cuisine Diogo Caetano. This elegant room with high ceilings opens into a spectacular winter garden and offers sweeping views over the park with its ancient trees.

More casual but also impressive was the simpler fare at the Pädaste Yacht Club on the  Sea House Terrace down by the marshes. A good start. So too, our suite, which sported a terrific bathroom, with a free-standing tub, and a balcony overlooking woodland.

No two rooms are the same at Pädaste, either in the art-filled Manor House itself or in the Carriage House in the grounds – a consequence of the quirky, organic feel to the place Martin has been determined to maintain. Even the sauna, in a separate cottage brings a smiling, homely feel to state of the art facilities.

The position helps, convenient yet remote feeling. We soon ventured beyond the gate and into a piece of unspoiled Muhu. Despite, or perhaps because of the unseasonal heat, mist cloaked the distant creek. After lunch and a beer we took our books out to the loungers on a little jetty and drifted off to the sound of birdsong and bee hum. 

If shacking up in a lost domain is your thing, then there’s no need to venture out. We took the hire car for a morning’s spin around Muhu, which is really just a staging post en route for Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa.

Our favourite spot was Koguva fishing village, a lovingly preserved gaggle of farmhouses. There’s a museum of island life with staff in traditional costume and an art gallery but really it’s just an idyllic maze of lanes to wander around. It helps that it’s mostly inhabited by locals whose families have been here for generations.

This feels like the true Estonia, rather than Tallinn Old Town. Strikingly beautiful, yes, but just a mite plastic. Pädaste’s park and shoreline form part of a nature protection zone which is well known for its biodiversity. The shoreline is a stopover location for migratory geese, cranes, ducks and swans. Three breeding couples of the rare and majestic sea eagle nest nearby, the nightingale takes centre stage in the evenings of early June. 

The park is home to owls, woodpeckers, squirrels and bats. Deer, wild boar and moose inhabit the surrounding forest. They occasionally can be seen crossing into the park, specially during cold winters.

Alas, the hotel is closed during the winter months, shuttered against the ice. Ready to reawaken when the abundant spring flowers are again in bloom and the lucky visitors return. Nowhere I know is quite like it.

Fact file

Pädaste Manor – a Small Luxury Resort & Spa, Pädaste Mõis, Muhu Island, 94716 Estonia. +372 45 48 800. A member of Relais & Chateaux. Doubles from 280 euros (Carriage House) and 387 euros (Manor House). Junior suite from 459 euros, including breakfast with the Grand Suite at 965 euros. The hotel can arrange a private limousine transfer for the two hour journey from Tallinn or you can book car hire via the hotel website to get a discounted rate and complimentary upgrade depending on availability. Finnair has regular flights from Manchester to Helsink with connections to Tallinn. 

To celebrate the hotel’s 25th birthday this profile of Pädaste is extracted from a travel piece of mine on Estonia, first published in Manchester Confidential.

I am eating one of those banh mi Vietnamese baguettes, with a dip of pho broth on the side. The spice goes surprisingly well with a Denver Pale Ale from Hogshead brewery – a neighbourhood homage to English cask beer. Soundtrack is the Black Keys in glam stomp mode; staff serving sushi, pizza and Venezuelan arepas shimmy along to it. In the distance Denver’s soaring skyline shimmers.

The ‘Mile High City’ apparently gets 300 days of sunshine a year and today is living up to the boast. My vantage point is the rooftop terrace of collective eaterie Avanti F&B, a two level shipping container with half a dozen global food vendors plus bars dispensing a riot of delicious, eclectic beers. 

The panorama across the city from the Avanti Food Hall is stunning

Naturally, for this is Denver, US capital of craft brewing, home to more than 100 breweries, and to the annual Great American Beer Festival (virtual in 20121, due to return in 2022). 

After my banh mi it’s all I can do not to order another pint, a Diebolt Chin Chin de Diable Belgian Golden Strong Ale perhaps or a wild-fermented Crooked Stave Hop Savant, both local riffs on artisan hoppiness.

Heaven knows I’m thirsty enough after rambling around Denver’s hip and hilly Highlands district with its roster of fine eating places and bars – the likes of Roots Down, Linger, The Ale House, William & Graham and the veteran Beat Writers’ hang-out, My Brother’s Bar (about all of which, later). Fine old houses, too, and a pleasing leafiness.

The Ice House Building in historic Wynkoop Street

This is a city for walking. Highlands is west of the South Platte River, easily reached via the pedestrian Millennium Bridge and the revived Riverfront parks from my base in LoDo (Lower Downtown). How they love these aspirational acronyms – RiNo, which I always took for ‘Republican In Name Only’, here means the River North Art District, an urban wasteland now on the up and a hub for the craft brewing and leftfield creativity that define contemporary Denver.

LoDo too is a story of resurgence, entire blocks of brick warehouses and stables left to rot rediscovered and turned into apartments, restaurants and the like without losing their soul. Blink and you could be in that old Rocky Mountains frontier town with a whole posse of mavericks passing through – Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid and Buffalo Bill (who is buried up on Lookout Mountain on the outskirts of town).

Union Station’s impressive facade is symbolic of the old city centre’s regeneration

The railroad was mighty important for the development of the Wild West; one cherishable legacy in Denver is LoDo’s Union Station, a 1914 Beaux Arts masterpiece that only a few years ago was a shabby drifters’ haunt under threat of being torn down. Enter an urban conservationist called Dana Crawford, who energised its transformation into one of America’s coolest destinations, complete with its own 112 room Crawford Hotel named in her honour. 

The view of the Union Station Great Hall from my Crawford Hotel lodging

I was lucky enough to stay there; walk out of my second floor room and I gazed down from the landing on its ornate centrepiece, the sweeping Great Hall. White and gilt, glistening chandeliers for when the light fades through its vast arched windows, it’s quite glorious.

Down in the lift, avoiding the temptations of the Cooper indoor cocktail terrace, and I was spoilt for choice by the array of food and drink outlets and boutique shopping, including a tiny branch of the city’s legendary Tattered Cover bookstore and Snooze, flagship of a renowned retro brunch chain (with cocktails and ancho chilli wheat beer shandies for when the smoothies pall). Next door Mercantile switches from daytime deli to casual fine dining each evening.

My main focus was on the Terminal Bar, in the converted ticket office which occupies a whole side of the ground floor. What’s not to like about 30 rotating regional beers on tap and a smart Colorado spirits list?

The RINO district is the epicentre of Denver’s art culture

Having got the taste, I left this heavenly haunt in quest of the catalyst of Denver’s craft beer revolution – The Wynkoop Brewpub on the street of that name. To get there it’s just a short walk across the station plaza, home to a growers-only farmer’s market every Saturday (Union Station even has its own beehives on the roof and a farm to table ethos governs much of the city’s eating habits). 

Denver mayor now Colorado state senator John Hickenlooper founded the brewery/bar back in 1988, kickstarting the rebirth of the whole area. It has a real pub feel with pool, darts, telly sports and a hearty food menu. 

It’s a must-visit destination, but the axis of brewing has shifted northwards to RiNo, a still edgy district that over the last decade has been colonised by artists, hipster nesters and cutting edge brewers. This transformation has now gone into overdrive, with the infrastructure still a work in progress as we discovered on our bumpy tuk tuk ride from Downtown.

The Source, converted from an old brick foundry into a food market hall

What we discovered was majorly exciting. The hub is The Source, an 1880s brick foundry complex that has been converted spectacularly into an artisan food market hall with an on site hotel created by New Belgium brewery, from Fort Collins. Their big rivals in that town, Odell also now have a presence in Denver. A sign of the times, though, in a very competitive market, Falling Rock Tap House, a pioneering US craft beer bar, closed it doors in June 2021.

Ratio Brewery – I just missed a private gig there from Wilco

A short walk away from The Source are several excellent brewery taps – Zach Rabun’s Mockery probably the best, its name a rebuttal of the constricting German Reinheitsgebot ‘pure beer’ rules, thus emphasising their own innovative brewing (Mukduk, a summery cucumber Berliner Weisse beer quite breathtaking); Great Divide next door, motto ‘bold characters’, is a bigger concern, a pioneer in the wake of Wynkoop with their Yeti Imperial Stout range almost a brand within their brand and their brewery tours a lively introduction to the brewing process’; and Ratio Beerworks with a delicious range to be sampled in their large, functional, dog-friendly taproom, an offbeat rock venue (the touring Wilco played a private set there while I was in town).

Lining up the sours for me at the amazing Crooked Stave’s brewtap

Still, the most exciting tasting was in Source’s industrial chic food hall itself, just past the unique combo of florists and butcher’s shop, at the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project brewtap. Our server lined up 16 samples of the sour beers they specialise in – owner Chad Yakobson completed his master’s in Edinburgh in these complex ales fermented with wild yeast. Blueberries and cherries and barrel ageing all strove for attention with hardly a dud down the line, making for the most memorable beer moment of our visit.

Black Sky featured Robinson’s Trooper on tap and their own beers were damn tasty

All this proves how important beer tourism is to the town, which is scattered with breweries and their taps. Down in boho South Broadway I took in two which combine fermentation and heavy metal head-banging – TRVE with its occult dungeon trappings and Black Sky, whose bar – suddenly making me homesick – sports a Trooper beer banner in homage to the bitter curated by Bruce Dickinson for Robinson’s of Stockport. Booze loving bookworms have their own Fiction Beer Company, which I never got to, sampling brews inspired by literature from a bar created from stacked books. Anyone for Dreamer IPA, whose muse is the last line of Rudyard Kipling’s The Fairies’ Siege?

The Blue Bear marks the spot where the Great American Beer Festival traditionally takes place

But, of course, this is just the tip of the all-year-round ‘Aleberg’ that culminates in the Great American Beer Festival in the Convention Center on 14th Street – hard to miss because of the 40ft high blue bear leaning into it, a much-loved statue by a local artist, which is actually called ‘I See What You Mean’. Such a very Denver icon.

Larimer Square is home to Rioja, arguably Denver’s finest resturant

So if your idea of heaven strays beyond brewery visits…

Here are a few places to eat, perhaps buy a hat or even a stash of legal marijuana.


A contender for best restaurant in a city devoted to casual dining, this Francophile project from Jasinki-Gruich is a terrific mix of stylish surroundings, slick service and some imaginative Mediterranean-inspired food. Fittingly it’s in pedestrianised Larimer Square, the swishest stretch of bars and restaurants in the city.

I relished my rattlesnake and pheasant dog

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs

This purveyor of extreme fillings and biker diner vibes, is situated in edgier territory a 10 minute walk from Rioja. Alaskan Reindeer was the recommended dog of choice, but I decided Pheasant and Rattlesnake was the way to go with an El Diablo topping. Tastes of chicken naturally, not to be hissed at.

Civic Center EATS food trucks

Throughout the summer from Tuesday to Thursday, from 11am-2pm, it’s meals on wheels time in the rather grand public park sandwiched between the Capitol, the mInt and the rather wonderful Denver Art Museum. From a melting pot of global street food on offer I went Indian. My spinach paneer lacked genuine chilli eat, but it was lovely to sit out in the Denver sun with the lunchtime crowd.

Civic Centre is a grand setting for food trucks

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox

I went up 20th Street to breathe in the atmosphere from Coors Field ballpark on a Colorado Rockies match night and maybe grab a beer from the Jagged Mountain brewtap (not a Coors, mind, poor, thin stuff from the world’s biggest brewing facility just outside Denver). I was diverted, though, to Ophelia’s Soapbox, a former bordello that wryly styles itself as a ‘gastro-brothel’ thanks to its boudoir-style decor across several levels, encompassing and eclectic mix of cocktails and mostly organic dishes, live music and a dancefloor. 

Denver Central Market

A younger version of The Source – a gourmet food emporium with a community feel covering most bases and also a good place to lunch and, of course, drink craft beer, which we did. Lovely conversion of a bright and airy 1920s building, once a car showroom.

Linger, the former mortuary that now dispenses small plates and gelato


Another (more leftfield) conversion in the Highlands – the old Olinger’s mortuary transformed into a global small plate restaurant with a panoramic rooftop bar. The ‘O’ in the neon Olinger sign is extinguished at night; hence the laid-back name Linger.

William and Graham

Also in the Highlands classic Prohibition-style speakeasy the guise of a bookstore. A cosy escape, pull up a chair and order a Corn on the Macabre (Butter Washed Vida Mezcal, sweetcorn, blackened lime demerara and lime luice).


Famed the world over for its classic Western clothing range, notably the original snap button shirt, the original LoDo outfitters is a photo-cluttered shrine to all the celebs who have worn (or at least bought) the gear. I couldn’t resist slipping into the cannabis motif cowboy blouse sported by Willie Nelson in the picture.

Legal marijuana is big business in the ‘Mile High City’

Marijuana Dispensaries

Denver would be Spliffing Willie’s kinda town, Colorado his kinda state. If you are 21 or older, you can now legally possess 1oz of marijuana in Colorado. You can enjoy many types of concentrates and edibles during your visit, bought from an array of dispensaries with names like Potco and Sacred Seed. If you wish to research further visit the Colorado Pot Guide. And if you really want an initiation into the almighty Pot, visit the city’s International Church of Cannabis.

My Brother’s Bar, famed for its Beat connections, claims to be the city’s oldest drinking joint

My Brother’s Bar

The Beat writers would have approved – cannabis was their drug of choice back in the Fifties and Sixties. Kerouac, Ginsberg and Co were regular moochers around Denver primarily because partner in crime Neal Cassidy was raised in the city. His faint legacy remains in My Brother’s on the edge of Highlands, a bar without a sign at 2376 15th St. Here you’ll find a framed letter Cassady sent to a friend from the Colorado Reformatory, where he was sent for car thieving. The ever hard-up Cassady wrote: “I believe I owe (My Brother’s) about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity, please drop in and pay it, will you?” The beer range here is ace. I’d recommend the Odell IPA.

Glamorous ski centre Telluride is six hours’ drive away from Denver in the Rockies


For full information about the state’s attractions visit Colorado Tourism Office. and for Denver check out this link. The self-guided Denver Beer Trail is a good way to get your beer bearings in the city. A version of this article, since amended post-pandemic, first appeared on Manchester Confidential.

Was there ever a hotel as ace as the Ace? In my first visit to Portland, Oregon I revelled in its grungy quirks (even the vintage shower that didn’t work). With master mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler and definitive Stumptown Coffee on the premises and the legendary Powell’s City of Books two blocks away who could ask for a better base in this playful, radical city George Bush dubbed ‘Little Beirut’?

Ace Hotel – could a Portland rival oust it from my affections?

I swore this would always be my Portland lodging of choice. And the vow stuck – until six months later, stopping off on a San Francisco-Seattle road trip, I discovered Jupiter. Not via any space shuttle, simply by crossing the Burnside Bridge into a post-industrial quarter that’s on the up from a long way down. In this process the Jupiter Hotel and its in-house  live music venue, the Doug Fir Lounge, have been a major catalyst, along with Portland’s top restaurant Le Pigeon next door and Burnside Brewing Co across the road. Good things come in clusters.

The Jupiter was out of this world, especially the Doug Fir Lounge

We had been asked when booking the Jupiter, a converted motel, whether we preferred a room on the Bar Side or the Chill Side; the former giving you an up-close share of party central until dawn, the latter offering a chance of some shut-eye. We chose Chill, taking advantage of an extremely comfortable bed in a compact but murally soothing environment.

Host to many top acts, the Doug Fir Lounge has regularly been named one of America’s premium gig venues – and there’s strong competition in Portland itself from the likes of Mississippi Studios and the Crystal Ballroom. Indeed the Jupiter’s leaflets claim 12 music venues within a mile radius (along with five distilleries within two miles and award-winning breweries four blocks) We just loved the timber-clad Doug Fir’s happy hour bar vibe, the raucous stand-up getting the party under way and then the fire pit bonhomie of the joint.

Le Pigeon – I’d cooked the recipes, would the real thing live up?

The beer was better, though, at Burnside Brewing and we couldn’t resist taking in Le Pigeon, 30 seconds round the corner. I’ve been cooking from restless pioneer Gabe Rucker’s cookbook for several years and the bistro didn’t disappoint with dishes such as caraway crusted sweetbreads; foie gras thom kha; and truffled chicken, shrimp and grits, corn succotash, prawn-tarragon aioli. Top end prices, especially for wine, belie the casualness of the setting and make it a special occasion place.

Legendary street food from Mong’s Khao Man Gai

A more accessible and affordable bet for a Jupiter guest is three minutes’ walk away on S.E. Alkeny Street – a cafe outlet from street food champion Nong’s Khao Man Gai, whose original food cart is still serving its trademark poached chicken with rice downtown on the corner of SW 10th Avenue and SW Alder Street. Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin is a big fan.

Street food ‘pods’ are scattered around a city devised on a grid system (hence NE, NW etc attached to some impossibly long streets to signify which district you are in). The corner of 28 South East Place and Division Street hosts the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden, a lovely place to refuel, global food carts circling the Scout Beer shack like covered wagons. 

Bibimbap, sushi, roasted pepper tri-tip, Fillipino pork stew – it’s a dazzling Asian road trip. Alternatively, there’s Texas brisket or candied bacon burgers, waffle sandwiches and wood-fired pizza. I grabbed a picnic table, a Fresh Hop Simcoe brewed by the hyperactive beardies at Breakside and slurped the best bone stock rich ramen I’ve ever eaten from a truck called Hapa. The name describes the fusion of Japanese cooking techniques and Hawaiian recipes. For a full of Portland’s food cart locations visit this link.

Extracto is in the forefront of the city’s vibrant coffee culture

Though Seattle would claim the honour, sometimes you feel Portland invented coffee, too, it’s home to so many acclaimed roasteries. Stumptown is the place to start. It took on the city’s nickname (from its logging past) and for nearly two decades this roastery has set the standard by which rivals are judged. These are many to pick from nowadays. Take Extracto , a decade-old chain of two with its roastery at the original N.E. Killingsworth Street cafe/shop. From the Eleven of Spades house-blend through rare single-origin roasts to the elevation of latte decoration to an art form it hits all the right coffee buttons.

The Simpsons doughnut homage at Voodoo

With all this coffee, well, you’ve got to have a doughnut. Jupiter does a ‘The Magic is in the Hole’ certificate for guests, providing a ‘Voodoo Dozen’, a pink box of 13 from the city’s most hyped provider. Voodoo even run to a Homer Simpson tribute doughnut (creator Matt Groening is a Portlander and several of the cartoon’s characters are named after its streets – Ned Flanders, Milhouse and the like). 

But Blue Star has the edge in the Portland Doughnut Wars

Locals insist  Blue Star is the hipster doughnut of choice. I understand why when I scoff one of their lauded creations – a riot of intense chocolate, cream and brioche. The wonder of it is captured fully in a local website’s Deconstructing Blue Star’s Valrhona Donut. I’d checked out their Mississippi Avenue outlet en route for a Brewvana craft beer walking tour. 

April is our guide to the city’s amazing beer varieties

This vibrant corner of town, once a no-go area now on the cusp of gentrification, has lots to offer – the aforementioned Mississippi Studios, a street food pod (naturally), a cannabis store and the amazing Paxton Gate offering stuffed animal collectibles – but its breweries are worth the trip alone. Our Brewvana Mississippin’ tour guide April took us around three, Ecliptic, Stormbreaker and Hopworks Bike Bar and what our small party tasted along the way, especially at the latter, revealed why Portland contends with Denver for the title of US Capital of Beer. The three hour tour costs $69 and you do get to eat the pretzel necklace that brands you as an ale geek.

Snack on this choc chip treat and get high

Of course, the intoxicant of choice is not always malt and hop-driven. ‘Keep Portland Weird’ says the parking lot sign opposite Voodoo Doughnuts. Personal consumption of cannabis is legal in Oregon; still I resisted the temptation in its largest city to get high on a brownie infused with the stuff. They even sell ready-rolled joints in specialist dispensaries such as Nectar.

Himalayan salt is the tangy new kid on the block at Mark Bitterman’s saline mecca

Oh and salt is more than a footnote if you visit Mark Bitterman’s two sodium chloride-centred delis called The Meadow. Conveniently, one of them is up on resurgent North Mississippi Avenue next door to a Blue Star cafe. It was here I bought kala namak (Himalayan black salt) and a couple of Bitterman’s books – one on salt naturally, the other on cocktail bitters.

In it he name-checks another Portland legend, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, mixologist at Ace Hotel’s Clyde Common bistro and Pépé le Moko speakeasy. I couldn’t resist begging this  cocktail high priest for one of his celebrated barrel-aged Negronis.

Freaky fish in the brickwork – who said Portland was weird?

Post Negroni (or three) for further weirdness walk up to 901 Salmon Street and gaze up at a whole salmon swimming through the corner of a brick building. It’s an 11ft long bronze sculpture called Transcendence, high above a seafood restaurant.

I lived with this cat in my quirky Ace lodging

The city hosts some of the most inventive street art around. Some of it had rubbed off in my room at the Ace, adorned by a giant cat image guarding my personal vinyl deck. Retro touches extended to a Heath Robinson-like steel shower in my standalone tub that I gave up on and recycled fabrics and furnishings I found charming if hardly luxurious. Downstairs, though, oozes sociable cool. Check in and you may never leave. Unless Jupiter is in your orbit, dude.

For something different to enliven your stay in this most civilised of American cities in bewildering times check out these five fun options:

1 Small is beautiful at Leprechaun Park

Mill Ends Park – total area 452.16 sq in – holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest park. Known as Leprechaun Park, it fills a circular concrete hole, once meant to be the base for a lamp-post on Naito Parkway. Back in the 1940s a local journalist, whose office overlooked it, decided to plant flowers there and it was officially recognised as a city park on St Patrick’s Day 1976. PS Don’t aim to spend a whole day there. 

2 Or if you fancy a more expansive green escape

The formal Japanese Garden has now added an extra 3.4 acres to its original 5.5, featuring ornamental cherry trees, ponds and tea house. The revamped Cultural Village has an authentic style medieval castle wall, which was built with traditional hand tools under the watchful eye of a 15th-generation Japanese master stone mason. It’s a place of tranquil contemplation all year round but must be spectacular in blossom season.

3 Portland’s Chinatown

Once dubbed ‘The Forbidden City of the West, it is now much diminished. The opium dens, brothels and kidnappings via the ‘Shanghai tunnels’ to the riverside are now gone, but the area retains a certain seediness. All the more surprising to stumble upon the gorgeous Su Lan Chinese Garden, which occupies a whole city block on NW Everett Street. Modelled after Ming Dynasty gardens and built by Chinese artisans from twin city Suzhou, it offers a microcosm of Chinese culture. Taste the tea, feel the harmony. A Portland must.

4 A good bookshop? 

Look no further than one of America’s largest, offering used and new – Powell’s City of Books. On West Burnside Street around the corner from the Ace and boasting a spectacular wine and cookery section, I couldn’t resists its allure. After three Powell’s trips my Delta baggage allowance was in serious danger.

5 Wine? Head south to the Willamette Valley

Portland has its own urban wine scene, but the real deal is less than an hour away. Willamette is famous worldwide not for being Portland’s river but for being focus of the Oregon wine industry. Roam the hills around Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville 30 miles or so south of Portland. You’ll receive a warm welcome at any number of folksy family wineries. To plan an itinerary visit this link. We went upmarket to Ponzi, one of the pioneering wineries created by ‘escapees’ priced out of California and seeking a fresh terroir for the Holy Grail grape, Pinot Noir. That was 45 years ago and nowadays the luxurious tasting room and terrace overlooking the Chehalem Hills vineyards feels not a million miles from Napa. Accordingly, a single flight featuring a selection of current vintages costs $20 with cheese and charcuterie plates from $12. Worth splashing out for wine and setting. The winery has recently been bought by Bollinger.

Fact file


Neil Sowerby stayed at The Jupiter Hotel, 800 East Burnside Street, Portland, OR 97214 and at the Ace Hotel, 1022 S.W. Stark Street, Portland, Oregon 97205.

The Covid pandemic has grounded most of the transatlantic air services, but as lockdown ends expect a resumption from the like of British Airways and Delta.

An essential guide to the area is Travel Portland. For further afield in the state go to Visit Oregon. To plan your American trip of a lifetime go to Visit USA.