...has been with us at Krimos for nearly SEVEN YEARS!!
She has risen from a shy sixteen year-old waitress to a confident all-rounder. There is no job title or description for Nicola.
She is Krimo's!
Our regular customers bring her chocolates, which I often plunder when she leaves them behind the bar and bottles of wine -they know she is a connaisseur.
She has looked after the restaurant like her own. She has trained most of our young staff over the time she has been with us. Even Karen, when she came out of early retirement! Anything she needed to know, Nicola knew it.
When Adam started the Salsa classes at Casa, she enrolled most of her family to support the venture.
Last Sunday, she even brought along her Brazilian friend who is in this country for a visit. Oh, and yes, Nicola has travelled far and wide over the last seven years. I am not sure there is a corner of the World that remains unknown to her.
Nicola graduated over two years ago and has been looking for the right job ever since. She was invited to attend interviews in London and New York!
But, still, the career she dearly wanted was proving elusive... Well, that is until now.
Nicola has at last found her calling and is moving to London within the next few days.
Lucky London.Poor Hartlepool.
We have, over the last twenty three years, had many people come through our doors to help us run our restaurants and keep the standards we set back at Seaton Carew. Although our memory may be fading with age, we still remember all those who have left their mark on the restaurants and on our customers. There are a few who will always be in our hearts.
Nicola is already there.
...has been with us at Krimos for nearly SEVEN YEARS!!
Last year a couple of our customers went to Marrakesh and found a Portofino Restaurant. They brought me back a photo.
Karen and I went there for a few days in November and guess what? We found it!
I took this photo to prove it.
I nearly went in and boasted about our own Portofino but my shyness (!) held me back.
You may have heard of or even experienced Jemaa El Fna, a massive square in Marrakesh, which at dusk, is transformed into a giant outdoor restaurant with stalls selling all sorts of foods.
People from all over the world sit next to one another on rickety wooden benches or wobbly plastic chairs to sample Moroccan delicacies such as Tagines, Pastilla, skewered meats, fresh fruit juices, etc...
It is an experience not to be missed!
As reported in a previous post, bringing back a photo of another Portofino is worth a bottle of wine to the bearer.
Last night we went to our fortnightly Salsa lesson at Casa del Mar. There were two one-hour lessons, the first one starting at 7.15pm. Once the first lot were finished they sat down to their meal and the second lot of dancers began their lesson.
Five lessons later and I am still struggling. I really thought I had rhythm. I just cannot count to 8 steps! Most of the other dancers have picked it up very well and are getting better with every lesson.
Later, after everyone had eaten, we all danced again for a little while. I stepped on a few toes, bruised a few arms as well as my ego.
The package is Meal and Lesson for £14.95 and is getting quite popular.
They are essentially an acquired taste. Just look at the distorted face of someone who's tasting that funny fruit for the first time. YUK!!!
But, with patience you can get anyone addicted to olives.
Start with the stoneless green ones.
Rinse most of the brine off and chop them into little pieces. Mix them into a salad or rice. This can be a good start on the way to the addiction.
Then, bit by bit, and believe me, it can take a long time, you will succeed. I have on many occasions. It can be an even harder task than getting someone used to charred steaks to eat rare ones. But once someone reaches that stage, there's no stopping them. They will talk about olives in the same way as a wine expert can bore you about obscure Clarets.
Kalamata becomes their best mate!
Olive Stall at Antwerp Market
Spice up your olives...
Buy two jars of whole olives, greens and blacks.
Place the green ones and their brine in a large bowl. Drain the black ones and lightly rinse them in cold water. Add them to the bowl.
Add the following:
1 tbsp of crushed fresh garlic.
1 tbsp of chopped parsley
1 tsp of caraway seeds
1 tsp of chilli flakes
1 tsp of ground cumin
Juice of one whole lemon
Mix well and store in a jar or plastic box.
Top up with olive oil and refrigerate.
A bit of minced meat, herbs, breadcrumbs, etc... in a length of gut, tied into a 2-3 inch lengths.
Grilled, fried, barbequed, roasted... Any way you want!
Food from heaven!
Sausage making goes all the way back to Antiquity when meats were salted, flavoured then incased in guts to preserve them.
As time went by, various different ingredients were added flavour them. This was done according to taste, availability or even religion.
The Spanish Chorizo, the Greek Loukanika, the Italian Luganica, the German Bratwurst, etc...
Every nationality swears that their sausages are the best.
In North Africa there is the Merguez, a spicy lamb sausage flavoured with cumin and coriander.
A couple of years after I opened Portofino, I decided to experiment and create my own Merguez sausage with the help of the late Eric Thompson of Lee Meats in Chatham Road. It took me a few goes before I got the right recipe. I recorded it and nowadays, Noel, at Portofino and Kevin, at Casa prepare the flavourings for our butcher and Bob's your uncle!
It's really rare that I sit down for a meal at Krimo's because I always feel guilty dirtying a tablecloth.
Whereas at Portofino or Casa, I often have something quick for lunch.
(My favourite quick meal is a half-portion of Penne Benito. I named this dish after my first boss at the Capanella Pizzeria in Newcastle. My first job in catering.)
At Casa, I sometimes grab two or three tapas before a home match.
A couple of weeks ago, after a tourism meeting, I did however sit down with the Visit Tees Valley board for our Christmas lunch at Krimo's.
I felt a bit guilty because Karen was working short-staffed, due to the dreaded flu bug which decimated much of our staff over Christmas.
However, everyone commented on the good food and service.
The Mussels and Lamb Tagine were very popular as described by Maria from Argument Cottage. I had the fishcakes and the duck confit, and I must say that I really enjoyed my lunch.
Fishcakes with Thai sauce
Duck confit with sweet red cabbage.
So, what's your favourite Krimo's dish then?
Click on the image to enlarge it.
The Visitors Book sits on a shelf near the door at Portofino and is mostly used by our younger customers. They climb on a chair directly below the shelf and most often doodle or scribble inscrutable messages, a hieroglyphics expert would find impossible to unravel.
But there are those who leave neatly written notes for our waitresses.
Connor (above left) wrote "The waitresses were quick and polite."
I wonder whether young Connor, in his earlier restaurant experiences, has been used to slow and rude service but he OBVIOUSEMENT has learnt what service ought to be like in a good restaurant.
Connor and waitresses but also our chefs who must have had something to do with the speed of service.
Nicole, Joey and Belinda (Portofino) on our pre-Christmas night out.
Today I attended the latest Passport Group meeting.
Photo of the Trincomalee (Courtesy of HMS Trincomalee) with Portofino in the background.
I remember spending many days in December 2006, doing the mosaics that adorn the bar and mirrors.
The hardest bit was cutting the tiles. There were times where my fingers were numb with the repetitive action of marking, scoring and then cutting.
But the most enjoyable bit is slapping on the PVA glue and then placing the mosaics along roughly drawn guidelines. I'm not one for measuring really.
I started with the outer frame of red, black and yellow tiles. Then, without a firm plan I started from the left of the bar with a semblance of a fire, sky and cloud... Then it all went a bit fuzzy. So, I decided to do a mirror image starting from the other end.
The result is not that bad, even if I say so myself.
Casa del Mar, or plain "Casa" for the regulars, has become a very popular place to meet and eat.
Adam and his team ensure that their customers enjoy a fantastic time when they visit the restaurant.
It does get a lot busier in the summer when diners can enjoy a few tapas al fresco, accompanied with a jug of Sangria and some exotic cocktail.
All we need is a few palm trees along the Marina and you'll be transported to the Sunny Med!
Click on the link on the right to visit Casa.
Just before Christmas, the head of Stranton School in Hartlepool dining at Portofino asked if I could help with a healthy eating competition.
Monday morning saw the launch of its healthy eating campaign involving pupils and their parents. It was attended by the Mayor of Hartlepool Stuart Drummond.
I videoed Mark Earnden of Expo Chef demonstrate how easy it is to create fresh food free from additives. The kids loved most of the food Mark got them to taste.
A few parents have signed up for weekly cookery lessons. There will be a competition in March which Mark and I will judge.
Rain fell over the Marina on Saturday night.
Portofino was busy from the word go. The "Mad Hour" attract lots of families with children as well as couples getting fed before hitting the town.
By 8pm the kitchen had run out of mussels and sea bass. Elaine rang Krimo's to borrow some but Colin couldn't spare any.
At around 8.30pm I headed for Casa del Mar. It was bouncing! Lyndsay was slowly going through a long list of people patiently waiting to be seated.
Showing no sign of stress, Head-Chef Kevin and his team worked through a row of orders while Adam helped behind the bar.
I helped clear and clean a few tables, greeted a few diners, collected a few glasses then headed for Krimo's dodging the rain and revellers.
Everyone looked on the ball. I went round the tables greeting customers, a few words here and there then entered the kitchen. Colin and his team were calmly going through the orders.
Just another Saturday night in the Triangle.
I later took a few photos for the blog.
Crème Brûlée with almond tuile.
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla ice cream
I got ready for work (black shirt and black trousers) and the match (thermal long johns and two pairs of socks)
I checked my coat pocket for my season ticket. It wasn't there! Cold sweats. A few swear words in Greek, Spanish, French and Algerian under my breath.
Upstairs. Downstairs. Suit jacket. Waterproof coat...
"I must've dropped it when I walked back from the Leeds match on Boxing Day."
Then I heard a voice in the background:
"Put the light on and look inside the cupboard."
I had already looked there but decided to look again.
Suddently, out of the corner of my eye I noticed the blue Hartlepool United coat Portofino's staff had bought me for Christmas.
Yes, the season ticket was inside one of the pockets. What a relief!
I went to work, helped serve quite a few hungry football fans before heading for the match.
Now I really wish I hadn't found the ticket!
I knew it was someone pulling my leg and surely, a few weeks later, Peter a long-standing friend admitted to the scam.
This gave me the idea of challenging our customers to send us or bring back postcards, photos, etc... from other Portofinos around the World. The bearer is rewarded with a bottle of wine.
I have them pinned to our lobby walls and they attract a great deal of interest.
At the last count, there were cards from over 70 World locations. This gave me another brilliant idea.
I contacted our local newspaper and this is the result.
Today and for the first time in many moons, I was back in Krimo's kitchen with Colin, Jimmy, Shawn and Lydia, our porter.
I will do one or two shifts a week to ease myself back into the routine for when the lads go on holiday.
I wore a Krimo's T-shirt and my old butcher's apron. And entered the kitchen with my big knife. It's a massive chef's knife I use at home. So sharp you can shave with it.
I asked whether there were any jobs for me to do.
Colin pointed to two big red cabbages to be chopped. He uses the braised cabbage as a bed for the duck confit.
My knife came in handy and I was done within a few minutes. Like riding a bike.
Karen was training staff on coffees so the kitchen was rewarded with Lattés and Cappuccinos to taste.
Service wasn't hard. We only served around 16 to 20 lunches.
The morning brought back memories of when I worked full-time in the kitchen at Seaton Carew.
Always making sure to arrive before everyone else. And when I got a new piece of equipment, no one else was allowed to use it before me!
Lydia, who has been with us for nearly eighteen years remembers those days.
Funny but I now realise how much I've missed being hands-on and I am now looking forward to my next shift.
We started using visitors books in 1986 after we were impressed with that of the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Lake Ullswater. Since then we've had dozens.
At Krimo's we have around three or four on the go at all time. Most customers leave us a small message at the end of their visit. A few of the regulars tend to have an ongoing conversation with the staff.
Raymond, a long-standing regular of ours comes just about every week and never fails to leave a thorough review of his visit.
Many messages have been left in various languages by passing foreigners.
A set of young ladies began coming to Krimo's in its early days, when they were still teenagers. With every visit their comments became bolder as they lost their inhibitions.
"We love the chef."
"You can cook for me any time!"
And then one day they left kisses with their lipstick across the pages. Karen pretended to be jealous but we laughed.
It became a pleasant habit. Nowadays, over twenty-years on, they still use our restaurants regularly with their families. We often laugh at all the cheeky messages they left in our visitors books.
I have decided to start a blog to keep you in touch with what's happening in our restaurants: Krimo's, Portofino and Casa del Mar.
Who wouldn't give their right arm to own a restaurant, swan around tables, telling naff jokes and get compliments (mostly) just about every night for nearly twenty-three years?
If that's not Cloud Cookeryland, then what is?
I aim to make this blog fun, informative but mostly musical! I shall be blowing my own trumpet quite often. So, for those allergic to noise, please leave the room right now.
I am not a professional chef. I just cooked when I was a student so I wouldn't starve to death. I started washing up in a Newcastle pizzeria in 1979 and discovered that Naval Architecture wasn't for me.
Most of you know our story but here is a quick synopsis.
£250 is all it took for Karen and me to open Krimo's at Seaton Carew in 1985...
We never looked back.
In 1990 we moved out of the upstairs flat and doubled the size of the restaurant from 30 to 60 seats.
In 1997 we opened Portofino, our pizzeria on the Historic Quay. The first restaurant this side of the Marina.
In 2000 we closed Krimo's and moved the operation to the Marina. The first restaurant the other side of the Marina.
Two years ago, we opened Casa del Mar. The first Tapas Bar in Hartlepool.
I enjoyed doing the mosaics (Check out my handy work next time you fancy some tapas) , worked for a couple of weeks in the kitchen with Kevin and then left the young team led by Adam get on with the job.
In future posts I'll introduce you to our team members. Sounds like a football team, doesn't it?
Don't get me started about football, now.
If you'd like to help me keep this blog topical please feel free to leave your comments, questions, etc...