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Posts tagged ‘cuisine’

The Sicily Series | Part II – La Pescheria, Soul of the City

You can smell Catania’s famous daily fish market, Le Pescheria, long before you approach it… that unmistakable smell of the sea tinged by an ever so decipherable pungency of putrid flesh together with the fresh zing of lemon, the fragrant perfume of fresh herbs and the pure scent of water, the neutral base note which both reflects and is imbued with the distinctive nature of the surrounding area. In Catania, that is a smell which is characterised by the scorching heat absorbed into and evaporating off the dark lava stone walls of its ancient Etna-born palazzos. Follow the scent, past the resplendent Baroque Duomo, and you find yourself in Catania’s burgeoning and frankly raucous market, starting with the abundance of locally caught fish, and spreading outward into the streets beyond where stalls loaded with fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, bread and cheeses populate every spare inch of the pavements.

The famous fish market


I have been to many wonderful European markets. Each have their own character, and every one of them is utterly captivating for the breadth of fresh produce and characterful salesmen. But Catania’s market feels more historical and more authentic than any I have visited. Gathered together among the foundations of ancient Roman ruins and decaying Medieval walls, the stalls of the fish market are collectively transportative, with the power to recall the bustle of a Roman Forum or a scene from the Renaissance. The market takes us back to the roots of modern civilisation, stripping back our senses to a basic appreciation of nature at its best: enviably fresh fish, sensationally plump vegetables, none of them the result of quality control but a product of nature’s caprice. And beyond the produce, perhaps the best thing about Catania’s market is its people, the fishermen and stall holders who are so full of passion, who will declare strong and loud that their fish is the best, outdoing one another to see who can attract the most attention, and secure the quickest sales of their freshly acquired catch.

To be accompanied by some super-fresh fruit and veg… (and cheese)


All of this combines to make a visit to Catania’s market an ultimately thrilling experience, full of noise, of smells, and of colour; shades of pink and red and green and blue whose vibrancy truly shines against a backdrop of black lava stone. This is street theatre at its thrilling best, as fishermen slice open slithering fish and proudly display their decapitated fish heads while elegantly dressed women totter in heels, neatly stepping over pools of water stained with blood. Catania is a city with real spirit and an abundance of outwardly expressed emotion, but it is perhaps in its market where Catania’s soul truly resonates.

…and some more fish


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Mallorca Sketchbook: Olives and Grain

To call these little paintings “sketches” is perhaps something of a misnomer, not least for my sketchbook which is traditionally full of black and white line drawings. However, my move to Mallorca has undoubtedly coincided with a rush of colour into my life, and the drawings I am doing now are more colourful in their creation. They are also painted – these two little detailed sketches are painted in my new favourite medium for quick artwork: gouache.

Representing very much two staples of Mediterranean cuisine, these little paintings illustrate the grain which goes into Mallorca’s local bread, and the black olives which are so plentiful all over the island.

Black olives (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Black olives (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Grain (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Grain (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Provence Odyssey | Avignon: Le Dîner – Coin Caché

Finding a good restaurant when you have no reservation is almost always a matter of luck. All too often, the temptation of every tourist is to dine at one of the very visible, very central tourist-based restaurants of a town, rather than risk wandering off into the great unknown and finding yourself walking, endlessly for hours until a restaurant is eventually found. However I learnt my lesson the hard way in Madrid when, one spring evening, clueless where to eat and with time ticking on, my family and I opted for one of the many restaurants which line the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square. And my god, some two years after the event, that meal remains the worst of my existence – lamb so chargrilled that it was all bones and ashes, fish so hopelessly dry that it bore more resemblance to a sun-dried lizard corpse which had been rotting in the desert heat for 5 months. And the prices! Now they were worthy of one if not two Michelin stars just on their own, running well into three figures for eating brick dust.

On the approach to the squares behind the vast Papal Palace…

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So that lesson learnt (and my tip to any Madrid visitor would be to avoid all of the Plaza Mayor restaurants at any cost!) I ensured that on our second night in Avignon, we walked further afield than the main Place de l’Horloge where similar tourist honey-pots seemed to be lurking. We walked for some time, finding that, since it was Sunday, many a guide-book recommended restaurant was closed, and just as we were starting to give into the realisation that it would be tourist-fodder or no-fodder, we stumbled upon the most magical square in Avignon – the Place des Chataignes.

Set against the backdrop of St Pierre’s gothic church, around the corner from the huge natural rock cliffs into which the Papal Palace is built, under the cosy shelter of huge plane trees and surrounded by little shuttered French houses and restaurants straight out of the picture-books, this square was a gem to behold, and had to be the discovery of the trip thus far. And yes, while the 3 or 4 restaurants filling the square no doubt catered for tourists, their superior quality was obvious – with one rather chic affair in particular catching our eye and beckoning us closer: Coin Caché.

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Coin Caché offers something of a contemporary twist on French cuisine, serving up innovative treats such as chocolate hamburgers for dessert and miniature cauliflower cakes to start. It benefited from a stunning setting right in the centre of the square, and boasted its own resident fluff-ball of a cat – “Pom-Pom” – who kept us entertained with her fussy demands as to why pickings from our dinner were unfit for her sophisticated taste-buds.

Our own sophisticated taste buds on the other hand were kept aptly satisfied by the meal that was served up to our romantic candlelit table. I started with a melt in the mouth goat’s cheese and courgette bake, which was topped by salty cheese a crumble which was sweet like honeycomb. This was all balanced well with a side salad of sundried and fresh sweet baby tomatoes, flaked parmesan and croutons. Dominik, meanwhile, had that cauliflower cake of which I spoke – a creamy light affair, akin to a soufflé and deliciously caramalised on top.


Mains followed suit – for me, a rather sensational duck, perfectly cooked and tender, in a red wine reduction and served on a bed of rather unctuous pan friend gnocci and french beans. For Dominik, the winner of the evening had to be a soft flakey cod loin resting on a creamy rich pea and mint risotto. Simple fare, but delicately cooked. A little too delicate you might say for the accompanying 2000 vintage Chateauneuf du pape to which we treated ourselves that night in celebration of our 4th anniversary… But then as we were in the papal city, we could hardly leave town without a taste of the red stuff. It goes without saying that the wine was sensational – almost knockout in both alcoholic content and rich velvety flavours.


For dessert we were roundly finished off with a double dose of “chocolate hamburgers” which basically consisted of a “bap” made from a soft brioche like biscuit, with a “burger” of dense chocolate mousse and a generous helping of salted caramel “relish”. ‘Twas heavenly. But one would have done four times over – each coping with this overload of chocolate and caramel after a meal not lacking in generosity of portions, creams and cheeses was a struggle, but one which frankly I wouldn’t mind engaging again.

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Coin Caché has no website, but their number is +33 490 820 731. A must on any visit to Avignon.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest. One of the greatest pleasures for me is going along to a classic family-run Spanish restaurant on the corner of the Paseo Maritimo in Marbella heading East towards Cable Beach. It’s off the tourist track, and far from the glitz and glamour of the Golden Mile and Puerto Banus, and that is why the restaurant, frequented as it is by the Spanish locals, serves some of the best food along the Marbellan coast, albeit cheaply and without pomp or ceremony.

Pretty much every Sunday when I am in Marbella (and how I wish I was right now) I head to that café on the corner, to eat a simple serving of squid with salad and, on the side, a large plate of oily, simple Patatas a lo Pobre. Literally translated as potatoes of the poor man, this typical Andalusian dish is awfully simple (it comprises mainly potatoes, onions and peppers), but completely delicious. And so, when a cold chill nipped at my spine this week, and when all I did was yearn for my beloved España basked in the summer heat, I set about recreating my favourite Sunday lunch.

My adored Marbella

My adored Marbella

Its calm winter beaches

Its calm winter beaches

The fisherman's huts of Cable Beach

The fisherman’s huts of Cable Beach

The patatas are really simple to make. Take one large onion and slice. Sauté the onion gently in oil until it softens, and add to that two chopped red peppers (deseeded), 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely, seasoning, a small teaspoon of pimenton and a few bay leaves. This should all be cooked, again,  until the pepper is softened. To that, add around 6-8 peeled potatoes chopped into bitesize pieces and a good glug more of olive oil, and cook the whole dish further until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart (I find that peeled new potatoes work best for this as they can be sliced into neat round disks and keep their shape easily).

Serve your patatas drizzled in further good quality olive oil and, if you want to recreate the whole experience, some grilled squid and a hearty side salad (sadly I was unable to get my hands on any huge squids like those so frequently available on the Med, but when in London…well, we have to put up with seafood on the smaller side). This dish guarantees a burst of Spanish flavour with the added benefit that, as the name suggests, it’s really very cheap to make – highly suitable for that post-Christmas poor man’s January then.

My patatas

My patatas

And some very small squid!

And some very small squid!

¡Buen Provecho!