I’ve been having vacation envy. Some friends are in Antigua where they are staying at a villa right on the beach. It comes with all the bells and whistles, and I have no doubt they are sipping ginger martinis as the cook boils up a mess of lobster – which they will dip in lemon mayonnaise and eat with coleslaw and their fingers. Then go wash the whole lot off in the sea. Where the water is warm, blue as the sky and no gigantic sharks prowl.
Another pal just came back from La Colombe d’Or. One of my favourite hotels in the world. I first stayed there with R.E.M. on a press junket. There were new babies in the family and we decided to base ourselves in two spots – the other being Lutrellstown Castle near Dublin – instead of the usual 15 city trek. Tough choices – hah.
Colombe d’Or is in a village called St Paul de Vence – about 30 mins up the mountain from Nice. Picasso, Signac, Dufy, Bonnard and Matisse were all regulars and, as legend had it, they’d settled the debt incurred in their leaner years with works of art. My room had a frieze of gold angels painted up the passage – a Marc Chagall doodle from the late 70s. Artworks by Miro, Klee, Leger, Soutine, Modigliani, Braque and Cesar are scattered around the hotel.
The pool – which is dark and huge and has rosé on tap, features an Alexander Calder mobile over the deep end. The hotel has a tiny stand-up bar and we played endless games of scrabble in the conversation pit. My friends Jonny and Lotta fell in love at la Colombe and I can honestly say that some of the happiest moments in life were spent within it’s thick stone walls.
Then there’s the food – simple French. The breakfasts – giant cups of coffee, home made pastries and figs picked overhead and dropped sunwarm onto the plate. Dinner would be lightly grilled fish in summer and hearty stews in winter. But the lunch was the real winner. The waiters would deliver trays laden with a dozen ramekins of appetizers to the table. Small portions of fish, vegetables, cheeses, salads, olives, crudités and caramelized onions. Accompanied by charcuterie … served with chunks of fresh bread and curls of cold salty butter (yay! Love).
We’d sit there for hours … until surfeit and wine would send us to nap. An after lunch swim would get us ready for the evening – and we’d head out into the French dusk to ramble or gamble. Aah – fun times. Of course – we did an immense amount of work, Anton Corbijn took iconic photos of a band in transition. And James Bond** bought me a dirty martini.
I’ve been back since: the Rouxs gave me a room at the last moment once when I was poleaxed by a lung infection during a tour and couldn’t fly home. They made me chicken noodle soup and hot toddies until I was better. My friend Bertis reports the hotel, food, art, wine and people are just as wonderful as ever.
Last Wednesday was cold and rainy. One of those miserable days that take your happy place, kick it into touch and wring the joy out of it. I got to comparing – which is never a good thing. It was cold too – and I was craving something warm, nourishing and delicious for lunch. The fridge yielded slim pickings – and I was tired of toast and peanut butter. I wanted Antigua. I craved Colombe d’Or. But with the new holiday home in play – I won’t be doing any of that anytime soon.
So I took myself off to Woodstock instead. A part of Cape Town that is less hippy, more hipster than the name suggests. Think artisan coffee shops, alternative clothing stores, deconstructed galleries. Standing as a no-bullshit beacon in the midst of all this is The Kitchen. An unpretentious salad bar that is always packed, always delicious, always buzzy and warmhappy. There are “Hot Soup” and “Love Sandwich” options, but the real draw is the salad spread: you can opt for four salads at R35/$4 or six for R45/$5. And then choose from 10 platters: piled high with something different, fresh and seasonal every day.
Michelle Obama stopped traffic on her recent visit – swerving the higher end options to eat a plate of Karen Dudley’s salad. So I did the same. I went for the four up – and picked: Aubergine Ratatouille, Sumac Parsley Slaw, Beetroot Apple Coriander Salad, Barley Rocket Walnut Salad and Falafel & Hummus. They’d just unloaded a tray of crispy lemony potatoes – so I had that as my last dollop. They would have done Colombe d’Or proud. So I thought I would share the recipe:
Roasted New Potatoes with Preserved Lemon and Rosemary
2 kg baby potatoes or small potatoes
1 ½ cups sunflower oil
½ preserved lemon, pith removed and sliced finely in long strips
4 short twigs of rosemary, their leaves pulled off and squashed a little with your fingers.
- Boil the potatoes in plenty of water until tender. Peeled or un … your choice.
- Pour off the water and empty the potatoes onto a shallow baking tray. They line their trays with baking paper. Squash the potatoes with a wooden spoon or squinch them with your fingers to reveal their fluffy insides. Pour over the oil and toss the potatoes with the preserved lemon and rosemary and finally spread the whole lot out evenly on the tray.
- Bake at 220˚C until deeply golden and you have some decent crisp bits (40 – 50 mins)
- Sprinkle generously with Maldon Sea Salt, toss gently and serve immediately.
As I sat there forking the deliciousness into my mouth I realised I might not be in the Caribbean, but I was close to the sea. I might not be under the Leger in the courtyard – but there was a piece of extraordinary graffiti on the building opposite. Then the owner sent over an espresso and two tiny squares of lemon-curd tart – and waved. The waitress said: “This is from Karen – a little treat because it’s bloody miz today”.
And I realised I was exactly where I should be.
**Roger Moore – my fave James Bond.
(All images in the public domain. This post was not sponsored – Karen’s food is just worth shouting about. Check out her book “A Week in the Kitchen” – it’s as great as anything Ottolenghi ever did = only simpler.)