Cruise to Funchal & Tenerife
After the first lockdown, I really looked forward to travelling, eating, and writing again. But alas, it wasn’t to be, and as the second lockdown kicked in, the travel door was firmly closed again. Travel has been a massive part of my cooking career, so to be out there again cooking, eating, and finding new foods is such a joy. My first trip was to the stunning tropical island of Grenada (blog to come), and then my second trip was to cruise to Funchal.
The sea leg from Southampton to Funchal would take five days, then onto Tenerife, where I would depart and fly home. Onboard, I would cook a live demonstration with a Q&A slot. On arrival at Southampton, I was impressed with the new ship, which looked splendid in the late autumn sunshine.
The staff, as always, were immaculate and charming. I was shown to my suite, which is immaculately clean and well presented, my home for the next few days. My butler Herbert was straight on the case with wine and my favourite crisps and gave me a full rundown of the restaurants, food and opening times.
Saga Holidays had recently built two new super ships and approached me to demonstrate on board last October. Cookery demonstrations are something that I have done regularly over the years and really enjoy doing. Many years ago, 44 to be precise, I started my career at a Saga hotel in Folkestone, Kent. Incidentally, my father had installed a telephone system in Sydney De Haan’s first hotel in the late ’50s, which later became the global company Saga.
Lunch was fine: a light Caesar salad and a nice coffee. Then, after a quick walk around the ship before retiring, I went to my room to watch a couple of World Cup games as we departed Southampton.
For dinner, I plumped for The Supper Club, rather swish, with a sort of art deco feel about it. Staff were prompt and attentive, and a beer arrived as I looked over the menu—a nice spread of classics and inventive dishes.
I ordered the Warm Wild Mushroom Rosti with Quail Egg Rocket & Summer truffle. It arrived swiftly and looked very nice, almost too quickly, as I hadn’t ordered any wine yet. Bread and wine duly arrived, and I tucked in. The balance was pretty spot on with the right amount of mushrooms, and not overcooked, nicely balanced and seasoned. The was rosti crisp but not a galette, as in too crunchy or oily as the can sometimes be. The quail egg was cooked to perfection. The steak was spot on: cooked perfectly, seasoned well, and had a good flavour.
Back in my cabin, I use the time to write, read and watch films as I never watch films at home; there is always too much to do.
There were some delicious dishes on this trip, and as Jo (cruise director) and Chef Raj informed me, you would never see the same dish twice on any cruise, apart from breakfast! Even the afternoon teas are themed, so one day, a chocolate extravaganza the next day and a strawberry explosion.
Other dishes that stood out were a version of nasi goreng, rabbit stew, polenta with mushrooms and fried basil and a great favourite of mine, Osso Buco, to name but a few.
My demo went down well, and I have to thank Chef Raj and the team for the impeccable prep they did for me. Us chefs just turn up and expect everything to be perfect, so I can’t thank them all enough. The last thing they need is the extra hassle of a chef turning up!
Before we know it, it’s 6 am, and we are gently slipping into Funchal docks. It’s so nice to open your doors and feel the late autumn warmth after five days at sea.
After a quick coffee, I can’t wait to get off and explore before I meet Jo for a quick lunch. My friend and fabulous gardener, Terry Walton of BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vines’ show, always told me he went to Funchal in the winter as the flowers and gardens were terrific, being almost sub-tropical. He is spot on, and as I walk into town past a rather weird sculpture of superstar footballer Cristiano Ronaldo (he was born here), the small park areas, gardens, and trees are perfectly kept, and there is not a spot of litter anywhere.
At The Market
I always do a little research on the country and towns or cities we are visiting so I hit the ground running.
This typically means finding the local fish/meat or vegetable market. Then, pretty much off the side streets, and in that area, you are likely to find authentic local food simply cooked. Funchal did not disappoint.
The fish market is a cavernous place, and anybody can wander around. I see massive tuna, one steak of the loin bigger than my hand! I so wish I had my portable cooker with me, a few mackerel and bream and then a fish I wanted to see and eat from my local research, the Scabbard fish. Jet black with almost prehistoric features, this deep-sea fish is a local delicacy.
If you walk through the fish market and then over a main road, you will come to two streets parallel to the sea. It’s lined with many local, if not a bit touristy, restaurants, but hey if the locals are eating, that’s good enough for me. I meet Jo, and we settle on the restaurant, Taberna Ruel on Rua de Santa Maria, 119-Zona Velha. So tiny you’d walk past it. We sit outside on the cobbles in the warm sunshine, bliss.
The restaurant owner is straight out to show us the impeccably fresh local catch that day. It was pretty impressive.
The menu is a bit of a mishmash, but a few things stand out for me. Grilled limpets, goose barnacles, and octopus, which I adore, and local oysters are always a must. Then, the thing I have been hoping to find, Scabbard fish with either banana or passionfruit! What a perfect lunch, although Jo was not particularly enamoured with the oysters, limpets or barnacles. Oh well, I’ll just have to eat hers. We also ordered a side of garlic bread that comes in a rather fetching bag as it’s so good, and it was indeed. Crisp, warm and slightly doughy, a perfect way to start lunch with a cold beer.
I haven’t had goose barnacles for a long time and forgot how tasty they are once you finally remove the briny flesh from the tiny elongated shells. Oysters were equally fabulous, again briny and acidic with a creamy finish.
Cable Car to the Botanical Gardens
The 15-minute ride, gives you chance to see incredible views over the city, the Funchal marina, and the Atlantic Ocean. Once in Monte, there are 2 beautiful gardens you can visit.
For the Football Fans, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Museum
If you are a huge fan of Ronaldo, you probably already know that Funchal is his hometown, so this is your chance to visit the CR7 Museum, where you’ll learn about his life story, and see memorabilia, trophies and more!
Street Art in Rua De Santa Maria
Spend a leisurely evening during your holiday, you should stroll around the beautiful street Rua de Santa Maria (Santa Maria Street), where all the dining and shopping options are concentrated.
The Scabbard fish was perfectly cooked, topped with sauteed banana, a squiggle of something I could not decipher, and some pea puree. The combination of fish and banana worked well, but I will not be trying to sell that idea to ITV’s This Morning cooking slot. Overall, it was an enjoyable lunch in the sunshine with a lovely mate.
Back on board, happily full and settled down for a quick nap as we set sail to my final destination, Tenerife.
We dock early, and I pack my bags and head off to my Santa Cruz hotel on the island’s northwest tip. Once you get off the industrial docks and slide into town, it’s a rather nice area and not touristy at all. I read an article published in The Guardian in 2012 that rated Santa Cruz as one of the five best places to live worldwide, along with Maui, Hawaii and Istanbul. After a quick walk through the park and local town, I can see its lovely, quiet charm, but here or in Hawaii? Mmm.
I started with a nice glass of Piedra Fluida Blanco – a local dry white wine, crisp, light and a perfect match to Iberian ham croquettes. Soft, warm creamy pillows filled with small chunks of the best ham in the world, deep fried in crisp crumbs, were superb.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening in Santa Cruz; I will visit again along with Funchal, no doubt on a future cruise. I will find a couple more places to eat great local food and report back.
Next, a delicious small cup of squash soup with spicy oil and warm crusty local bread with a mojo whipped butter and seaweed butter.
A slate of four local cheeses then appeared with walnuts, dried fruit and what looked like a fig bread, all in perfect condition and perfect temperature
I thought I might as well go the whole hog (forgive the pun) and have two main courses. First up, slow-cooked octopus with sweet and sour spicy pumpkin, smoked mojo cream and crispy beetroot petals. The octopus was soft and dense with a deep flavour. The rest was a little tired and gloopy, but nevertheless okay. I do detest squiggles of sauce.
Next, Iberian Presa with sweet potato and vegetables, all rather nice and with a deep pork flavour you don’t often find in the UK.
Some recipes inspired by my all-too-brief trip to Funchal.