A little off menu

In these times where we can do little but think, no, dream of travelling like we used to, it can start to drive you mad after a while doing just that. 

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  Rather than whine and mope about not being able to travel safely this year, I thought I would test myself and, to be honest, it has been a lot harder than I thought it would be.

The challenge is based on the rare excellent Off Menu Podcast that is hosted by James Acaster and Ed Gamble.  The idea is that they run a magical restaurant that can serve you anything that you want to eat from any restaurant that you choose and you have to pick:

1) Poppadoms or bread 
2) What drinks you would be having
3) A starter 
4) A main course and side dish 
5) A dessert 

I thought it would fill half an hour and, to be honest with you, I’ve been thinking about this for about a week now.  Waking up in the middle of the night thinking about a great starter I once had or drifting off in the middle of conversations with people and trying to decide on Indian or Mexican. With it being a travel blog, I thought I would take advantage of it being a magic restaurant and have it change locations for each course.  I may not match the right food to the right location, but you will pick it up as you go along I’m sure!

It really is a great podcast and worth half an hour of your time so try it out and listen to the professionals here 

Anyway, enough with the procrastination, here are my choices.

1) Poppadoms or Bread?

I do love Indian food but I also love bread, so this was a tough one.  As Harry Hill would say, there’s only one way to find out….FIGHT! But before it gets to that stage, I think I would prefer bread. I would ask for fluffy white bread with a very crusty crust that is still slightly warm.  Not too big so that you have to fight your way through a bread ’situation’ but not so small that the bread to crust ratio is all wrong. With that I’d choose a small ramekin of butter that is infused with garlic, herbs and little tasty lumps of rock salt.  I’d want that with a perfectly flat top and little beads of condensation on it from coming out of the fridge into the warm air.  That cold butter on the warm bread…..heaven.  I also, just to be clear, want that ramekin to myself. I don’t want to share it with the table, I want us to have a ramekin each. There is nothing worse than watching someone take more than their fair share, leaving you with a butter deficiency. 

Where would this course take place?  Well, first up would be The View at the end of Tynemouth Longsands.  This place has amazing views of the bay between Cullercoats and Tynemouth, with the amazing Tynemouth Priory as a backdrop, golden sands underneath you and silvery seas with bobbing boats and surfers in between.  I would be there either for the sun coming up in the morning or for the sun going back down with sand still between my toes from my walk along the beach with loved ones.

A view of The View at Tynemouth with its view in the background (authors photo)

I had to think about this one carefully as the View and setting is wonderful but I would have to bring my own staff in as they can be a little bit arty in there sometimes and rely too much on the view and location and forget about the customer service side of their job.  But maybe I’ve just caught them on a bad day (two or three times).

2) Anything to drink?

I have to be honest, I am not a fan of alcoholic drinks, they just don’t float my boat and the time it takes to recover from a good drink my age means that it’s just not worth the hassle to me any more.  A few hours drinking takes over 24 hours to recover and it’s just not a pay off that I think is worth it.  So my drink would be Coke Zero. I can’t believe that I used to drink full on Coke in the past, it feels like drinking syrup these days and I would prefer Diet Coke to full fat given the choice and no Coke Zero.  

But, as it is a magic restaurant and I can have anything I want, I want to be picky.  I want it to be Coke Zero served in a glass with ice and a little bit of lemon that instantly turns it into ‘holiday Coke’ and, more specifically, I want every mouthful to taste and feel exactly the same as the first refreshing mouthful for the whole meal, no matter how many sips I take.

Where do I want to be transported to for each one of those sips of my holiday pop?  Well, I think it would have to be Cafe Mambo in Ibiza.  Don’t get me wrong, I would need the place to be closed off to the pill popping Radio One set. I can’t be having them dropping disco biscuits and blowing whistles and ruining my night.  But the view, the sun dropping down below the horizon over the med with a warm evening breeze blowing around you and that feeling of having spent the day in the sunshine and relaxing in the sea or on the beach that you only ever seem to get on holiday. Perfect relaxation. Perfect venue. Perfect Coke Zero.

Ibiza Views

3) Will you be having a starter, sir?

Oh yes I bloody will thank you very much indeed.

For this one, I am matching up the food that I have with the venue that I am at.  It maybe isn’t the most exciting dish but I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was probably around 38 years ago this week.  I was about 6 years old and we were on a family camping holiday around Europe. I don’t recall if we are in Pula or Rovinj in what was then Yugoslavia but is today Croatia, sitting on the seafront in a little cafe overlooking the harbour.  We (mum and dad, grandparents and my brother), went to the same place for a few nights which was unusual for us as we always preferred to go to different places to try new things out.  But this place captured us, it was so nice and friendly. I don’t think back in those times that starters were that common, at least not in my family, and so when they brought us out food before we got our main courses I bet my folks assumed that they had made a mistake.

What they brought us was something new to us, we hadn’t seen it before and it was like we were eating the most exotic thing the world had ever seen. I was a 6 year old adventurer living like a king with my exotic starter on the seafront.  What was it you ask? It was a pitta bread with ham and stringy cheese melted inside and gently toasted.  Simple.  Simply beautiful.  Every time I have a pitta bread these days, it takes me back there, to that second night, wishing and hoping that they would bring out this next magical food that I had dreamed of for a full 24 hours since I last had it.  

Rovinj Front (photo courtesy of here)

Every one of my many memories of family holidays when I was growing up are happy ones. I just hope that I can bring my kids those same happy experiences that I was lucky enough to have.  The locations and the love that I was surrounded with, that’s why I’m picking a pitta with cheese and ham toasty.

4) And for the main course and sides?

For a man that loves food as much as I do, this is a bloody tricky choice I have to say. 

I love Thai food, especially the Mantra Thai in Newcastle that always feels like an occasion when you visit and the food has never once let me down. I love Indian food, particularly the excellent and award winning Shikara in Whitley Bay that has a reputation in this area for its first class food and equally friendly and professional service.  If you haven’t tried their Chicken Shashlik and you live within an hour’s drive of Whitley Bay, then that should be your first treat post lockdown.

They all came very close, but I am not choosing restaurant food. I am choosing food that was prepared by a good friend of mine when I visited Costa Rica.  He lived in the hills above the capital in a place called Cartago and he invited me to his home for a BBQ with his lovely wife and some other work mates. 

As with all good food, it was prepared simply but with love.  I had the nicest piece of steak I have ever had, soft and juicy in the middle and slightly charred on the outside without being burnt.  That was good enough on its own, but it was served with chimichurri, a new one to me and a game changer.  For those that haven’t tried it, it is a mixture of olive oil, parsley, garlic (all of the garlic), oregano, salt and pepper.

Any excuse for a Costa Rica picture (authors own photo)

It is a green sauce that just sat perfectly alongside the grilled cow and made every mouthful a delight of juices, texture and BANG flavours.  I can taste it now if I close my eyes and think of it (I am and my mouth is watering by the way).  

THAT steak, cheers JP xx

If I could have steak with a side of nine fat, triple fried crunchy chips served in three layers of three like a potato hashtag, liberally dusted with salt and a dash of vinegar (and maybe a few onion rings there for fun) I would be a happy man.

So, where would I eat this main course?  As the best part of my meal is the main course, this has to be a good one so the pressure was on and I have decided to go back to Sermoneta for this one. It was the final night of our family holiday in Italy and we visited the Ristorante Chichibo.

The views from the garden over the mountains, where we sat in the cool evening sun, watching the sun drop behind the mountains, were just stunning.  We laughed, we joked, we smiled and we shared memories of a wonderful week that we had had in this idyllic village precariously perched on the side of a mountain and filled with the warmest and kindest people you could imagine.  You can read more about that night <a href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>So, where would I eat this main course?  As the best part of my meal is the main course, this has to be a good one so the pressure was on and I have decided to go back to Sermoneta for this one. It was the final night of our family holiday in Italy and we visited the Ristorante Chichibo. The views from the garden over the mountains, where we sat in the cool evening sun, watching the sun drop behind the mountains, were just stunning.  We laughed, we joked, we smiled and we shared memories of a wonderful week that we had had in this idyllic village precariously perched on the side of a mountain and filled with the warmest and kindest people you could imagine.  You can read more about that night here <a href="https://itchyfeetandtitchyfeet.com/2018/10/27/day-7-italy/&quot; target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">https://itchyfeetandtitchyfeet.com/2018/10/27/day-7-italy/</a></p&gt; here.

Beautiful, beautiful Sermoneta

5) Would you be interested in the dessert menu?
Usually, by this point of the meal, I am so stuffed that I can’t really get excited about pudding but remember, this is a magic restaurant and you won’t feel full no matter what you eat.  So, yes, I will fill my boots with a pudding if that’s ok with you?


I love the mixture of hot and cold when you have a pudding and so I will be taking my Mum’s home made sticky toffee pudding including a bucket of the sticky toffee sauce, with a dollop of ice cream. 

Regular readers may remember by trip to Vegas and the vanilla ice cream made with the milk from crunchy nut cornflakes that I tried at the Milk Bar….I am having a scoop or two of that please!

The melting of the ice cream into the sauce, the sticky pudding sticking to your mouth and the feeling of the weight being added onto your chins with each mouthful. It is to die for, I promise you.


Pretty easy choice for me that one, so where would I be eating that? I feel like I have so many amazing travel memories that I am finding this harder than picking my pud. I think it would have to be on the balcony of the airbnb that we stayed in at Emu Bay,  Kangaroo Island. 

Again, the views were amazing and to watch the kangaroos eating their evening meal underneath you was like watching animals from another world. Happy memories, sitting in the evening cool and looking at the most amazing clear skies that I think I have ever seen.

Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island, authors photo.


Anything else sir?
No thank you, just the bill.  
Lovely food, amazing memories.

Christ, I miss being able to travel.

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