Weather grounds air show...

Three weeks ago, torrential rain and low temperatures spoilt our Maritime Festival.
This past weekend, the Sunderland International Air Show was another victim of the English Summer weather.
Two miles from the coast, as temperatures soared to 26 degrees (!) we, along with thousands of other people left our car on a field on the outskirts of Sunderland and boarded a Park and Ride bus. Colourful shorts and Tshirts, sunglasses, picnic hampers in hand, we headed for the seafront.
As we neared Seaburn, mist put a veil over the face of the sun.
Thousands of visitors waited in vain for a glimpse of a flying machine. The tannoy announced the fly-over of a Belgian Airforce F16. We heard it but never saw it.
All waited and expected, whiling away the hours on the Twister or the beach, getting a henna tattoo here, an ice cream there...
The sky cleared up for a few minutes raising our hopes skyward only for the mist to dampen them soon after.
The only planes we saw were of the Airfix type on sale in many of the stalls along the seafront.

Two years from now, the Tall Ships come to Hartlepool.
Do we have to start praying now for good weather?

Mouth watering...

When I conceived Casa del Mar, I decided that it should be a place where diners would be transported back to whichever fantastic Mediterranean holiday they have just come home from.
The menu includes Greek salad, Spanish Paella, Algerian Sausages, etc...
The minted lamb draws from both North African and Spanish cuisines.

Just like with Pavlov's dog, smells and tastes never fail to ring a bell inside our memory.

One warm summer's evening back in the late eighties when I was still cooking at Seaton Carew, I walked across the road to my favourite seat by the paddling pool just as I always did before the evening service, to collect my thoughts and ready myself for the onslaught.
A couple of hundred yards down the sandy beach The North Sea felt peculiarly warm. Not warm enough for a late dip but it imparted a strong Mediterranean smell, a fishy smell, a smell I had only come across back in the tiny harbour where, as a youngster I went for evening walks with family and friends. A smell that conjured up many beautiful memories.
Suddenly, I was gasping for grilled sardines, simple olive oil and lemon dressing, a walk on a beach...

Whenever I see couples holding hands across a table at Casa del Mar, their eyes full of Rosé I know they are on a beach far, far away, listening to the gentle surf of a Mediterranean evening...

A short one for the weekend...

Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?


No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.

This made me smile! My mam too was a great cook. I really believe that's what made become a chef. She used to cook my favourite dish, Lamb Tagine, when I went back home from boarding school or Uni.

Was your mother a good cook?
What was the best dish she cooked for you?

Gambas al Pil Pil

Fascinating how several Mediterranean countries serve similar dishes in many different guises.
One example is the dish of prawns with chili.
Portugal: Camarões com Piri-Piri
Spain: Gambas Pil-Pil
France: Crevettes au Piment
Italy: Gamberi al pepe
Algerian: Crevettes bil Felfel
The word Felfel is the common denominator. Arabic in origin it spread to Andalucia and the rest of Europe.

The Recipe:
10 peeled raw prawns
1 red chili
1 garlic clove, chopped
1tsp of paprika
Olive oil

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Saute the prawns for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic, paprika and chilli. Cook until the prawns turn pink. Place in a hot terracotta dish and serve immediately.

Lucky Luke...

Looks like Luke enjoyed his meal!
What an artist!
The visitors' book at Portofino is well used by our younger patrons.
And they can write!!
And draw!!

Many can't even reach it. But they climb on the old wooden chair and embark on an impromptu essay.
I can never help but smile in wonder at what must make those young little brains tick.

Cat on a hot tiled roof...

Portofino is full of little nooks and crannies where, if you look carefully, you will sometimes find something unusual that will make you smile.

A few years ago, when I saw this beautiful China kitten in a local shop window it reminded me of our own sadly departed Henry.
I bought it and placed it in one of our mock windows at Portofino. I often draw the attention of our younger patrons to it. They become so fascinated by our "guard kitten" that they begin searching for and noticing many more unusual artefacts all around our Pizzeria.

I have always felt that restaurants should not be just about food. If I am hungry I open my fridge door and make myself something to eat.
If I go out, unless it is for a quick lunch, I want to be in a place where I can relax.
After all, restaurant comes from the French word "Restaurer" which means "to restore" and restore my strength and my mind -not that I lose it often- is what I need when I go out for a meal.
Feeding minds as we fill tummies...


Ever since Tesco, Asda and Morrisons introduced their loyalty card, I have wanted to have my own.
For years, I have researched many systems which would reward our customers for their loyalty and finally I found a company which provided me with exactly what I had always needed.
A loyalty card system that customers can use in our three restaurants!
I designed the card, submitted it and hey, Presto! we are up and running.

Guess who owns card No.1?
Well, I am loyal, aren't I? I arrive at work every morning before 9!!!

Gay Gordons...

Remember the raffle we started with the Gordon Ramsay voucher I had won for entering a cookery competition?
Well, thanks to our generous customers, including the ladies of the NSPCC themselves, we raised exactly £669 in three weeks!
We could've raised a lot more but many of our customers whose opinion of Gordon Ramsay's foul mouth would've preferred it to be a voucher for Krimo's!
I am honoured.
Our special thanks must go to Hartlepool Mail reporter, Mark who kindly gave his time and column space for this endeavour.
Please click on the photo to read the article.

Rain doesn't stop play...

The rain and cold put the dampeners on Hartlepool's Maritime Festival but didn't spoil it.
There were lots of things to do. From shopping at the French market to dancing to live reggae and salsa, watching street artists strut their stuff around the Marina, supping a beer while watching many aquatic feats, etc...

I'm not sure that a little ray of sunshine would've brought any more visitors to Hartlepool. The festival was fighting for attention with Wimbledon men's final between Federer and Nadal.
Even they had to dodge a few showers!

Let's hope that next year the weather will be much better.

Photo courtesy of BBC Sport

A rise Sir Loin....

Sirloins, Fish, Tomatoes, Cream, Bread... Everything is shooting up!
Not a day goes by without a new increase in the price of our supplies.
Judging from the continuing rise in the price of diesel I have a feeling that this worrying state of affairs may well last long enough to hurt many people.

Business dictates that we should follow suit and pass on the increases. I usually leave it till we are struggling to reach our margins before augmenting our prices, and even then, very slightly as to not end up with disaffected regulars.

Over the twenty three years we have been in the restaurant business, there have been numerous times when we have had to grit our teeth and hope to ride the storm. I just hope that this time our confidence is not strained.