Friday, 31 October 2014

Spotlight on sherry

Jeréz-Cádiz-Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre
Courtesy of the Spanish Tourist Office

Sherry, in the last few years, has reinvented itself as a fashionable drink.  This fortified wine from Spain is no longer something that should be thought of as the sweet syrupy drink your grandma serves during the festive season. 

It comes in an array of styles and is now being quaffed by the young and fashionable in tapas restaurants and hip sherry bars which have sprung up in cities such as London and New York.

The sherry region is in Andalusía and takes its name form Jeréz, the main town.

Here are three different types of sherry that should have you thinking about this fortified wine in a whole new light.

Berrys’ Fino, Jeréz, £9.75, Berry Bros & Rudd, (  
This is a pale – thanks to the unique “flor” yeast – and delicate sherry that is deliciously crisp. The bouquet makes you think of salted almonds. Best served lightly chilled.
Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, Bodegas Hidalgo, £18.95,
A light and fresh Manzanilla sherry with salty tangs that comes from a single vineyard. Oozing with flavour, this classy number goes down a treat.  
Oloroso, Almacenista Pata de Gallina, Emilio Lustau, Jerez £19.95,
Stockholder Don Jaun Garcia Jarana may run this 100-year-old bodega as a hobby (his main business,  Two Wheels, is a company importing Japanese motorcycles) but his wines are top-notch. This oloroso (fragrant) is brimming with aromas of dried fruits. A superbly rich and powerful drink that you want to savour.  

By Daralyn Danns

Friday, 24 October 2014

Brussels – chocolate heaven

Irresistible chocolaty aromas waft through the air everywhere you go. If there were a god of chocolate he would look down on Brussels, the city that has this mouth-watering treat woven into its fabric, and smile contentedly at a job well done. For there is no doubt about it, Brussels is chocolate heaven. 

Aficionados of this delicious brown stuff hold this city, the capital of Belgium, in high esteem when it comes to innovation. It was over a hundred years ago that Jean Neuhaus invented the praline. From then on Brussels has been at the cutting-edge of the chocolate industry and has earned itself the reputation of being one of the best.

Courtesy of VisitFlanders

The average Belgian is said to devour about 6kg (13lbs approx) of chocolate per year, one of the highest rates of consumption on the planet. To satisfy their appetite, there are hundreds of chocolatiers that cater for all palettes from household names such as Godiva to Mary, the grande dame of chocolate, beloved by the Belgian royal family. 

Now chocolate fans have another pull, the Belgian Chocolate Village. This museum, one of the largest in Europe, is in the district of Koekelberg, not far from the city centre. 

Pierre Marcolin

It is built on the site of the old Victoria chocolate and biscuit factory that started out in life in the late 1900s. In 1969, the company moved. Over the following years, other companies including Godiva occupied it. At one point it looked as if the building would be transformed into loft apartments, but an area of 900 square metres was acquired by the local council to be turned into a shrine to chocolate.   

Stretching over three floors, you can learn about the history, culture and production. Take a self-guided interactive tour and you will be surprised how much you can learn about this delicacy on its journey from bean to bar. 

At the heart of the village is the tropical greenhouse that mimics the conditions for cocoa trees and other exotic plants such as spices used for flavourings. If all that has set your taste buds alight, book yourself into a chocolate tasting, learn how to make a ganache or try your hand at a cookery course. 

I can never have too much chocolate, so it was time to try out some of the newer artisan masters who have broken away from the traditional image associated with Belgium. They are experimenting with avant-garde techniques that are raising the bar.   

Making chocolate

Savouring creations hand-made by the person selling it, is in my book, taking your senses on a journey of discovery. Pierre Marcolini, a former pastry chef, has been tantalising Belgians since he opened his first shop in Brussels in 1995. He controls every stage of the production from the plantation to the point of sale. His shops are minimal yet elegant. .He uses high-quality fruits and ingredients to conjure up an enticing collection. His wares will definitely seduce you.

A favourite of mine is Laurent Gerbaud. For over a decade now the maestro has turned his work into an art form, pairing chocolate, fruits, nuts and spices. Having spent time in China, he got to grips with the country's penchants. Back on home soil, this experience comes through in his work. Even his logo is chocolate in Chinese characters.

His exclusive 75 per cent dark chocolate couverture prepared by Domori, one of Europe’s highly-regarded producers, he likens to a vintage wine. 

Laurent also held a sampling session which will ensure the mass-produced bars will never quite hold the same appeal. I also got to make some chocolate under Laurent’s expert tuition which was a unique experience.

We also had lunch there. Savoury and chocolate is a remarkably good pairing. It is a theme that Laurent is building on as he hopes to open a restaurant. I, for one will be clamouring to get a table!

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Eurostar operates daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels-Midi. Return fares from £69. More more info visit 

I stayed at the Dominican. For more information and the best rates visit

For information on Brussels and Flanders go to

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Sultan's Foot Ceremony, the Spa at Dolphin Square, London

Tantalised by the thought of being pampered with Moroccan mystic after an incredibly stressful home move, I booked in at the Spa at Dolphin Square for a pre-holiday pedicure.

Hidden away in a courtyard, a short walk from Pimlico Tube station, this Arabian-flavoured spa is an oasis of tranquillity and a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of London.

You will be hard pushed not to chill out when you step inside. Lavish furnishings coupled with dark wood make you feel as if you have been catapulted into another world. I was welcomed by a friendly, attentive receptionist who showed me where to change into my fluffy robe so that I would feel more comfortable. 

Relaxation area

The 55-minute Sultan's Foot Ceremony (£60) was sheer bliss and excellently executed. Soft music played in the background. It was wonderfully soothing. Just what  the doctor ordered!

After a superb foot soak in a wooden bowl with Dead Sea salts, my feet were treated to an excellent exfoliating massage. The therapist diligently removed any remaining hard skin before she tidied up the cuticles and massaged a rich moisturising cream into my feet and lower legs. Finally my nails were polished in a pretty pale pink. I felt revitalised.

The treatment over, I was ushered into a relaxation room for a Moroccan-styled tea ceremony. The mint tea was delicious and the dates that accompanied it were scrumptious. Such a civilised way of passing the time while the polish dries.

This is definitely a unique twist which transforms an everyday treatment into a luxurious pampering treat. After this, you will never want an ordinary pedicure again.

By Daralyn Danns

For more information about the Spa at Dolphin Square visit

Friday, 17 October 2014

Hotel Xenia, London

As soon as I walked in to the Hotel Xenia, the friendly, helpful staff welcomed me warmly. All my stresses and strains started to melt away.

I had just moved home and decided to check into a hotel for the night as I had not had the time to unpack. After all the turmoil I had endured I felt some pampering was required.

Hotel Xenia, is on London’s Cromwell Road and is convenient for Earl’s Court, the museum district and is also not far from Kensington Gardens.  

It may be a Victorian building with 99 rooms, but this boutique hotel is thoroughly modern. Wi-Fi, a necessity these days, is free. The glitzy reception spells fun. Decked out in Tom Kirk chandeliers, armchairs in striking colours, unusual wallpaper and a huge television, you are made to feel at home instantly. Another plus of this hotel is the event room with pool table, sofas and another giant TV.

My bedroom was cosy and relaxing. This understated elegance makes it the sort of place that you are glad to escape to after a long hard day. Decorated in neutral colours with hints of green, grey and brown, it had some rather lovely photographs of London landmarks which gave it a sense of place. 

There was also a Samsung tablet in the room loaded with useful information about the hotel and surroundings. It was great for doing a little bedtime reading.

Hotel Xenia

The bathroom, a combo of bath and rain shower was smart. There were L’Occitane toiletries which always perk up a shower. Another super touch was the plush fluffy bathrobe. 

After a quick refresh, it was down to the Living Wall Bar which was abuzz with residents and locals – always a good sign. Don’t forget to visit the heated outdoor herb garden.

There is a rooftop terrace and bar, ideal in the summer, as well as the Xenia Lounge which is the perfect place for a coffee during the day and in the evening for an aperitif or a relaxing night cap.

Dinner in the Evoluzione, under the auspices of Michelin-Star- awarded Italian chef Andrea Angeletti, was a superb dining experience.. He creates dishes using seasonal produce that have their roots in tradition but infused with modernity.  

Bar and lounge

I had roast octopus followed by roast scampi to start. (I couldn’t choose, so the chef suggested that I have some of both.)  Both were delicious. For the mains, I opted for baked rack of turbot with potatoes, sauteed lettuce and black olives. It was absolutely scrumptious. There are plenty of tempting wines to choose from to accompany your meal. 

Not normally a dessert lover, I was seduced by the innovative hot orange sponge with aubergine cream and extra virgin oil. It went down a treat.

The buffet breakfast offered a huge selection of dishes, but I couldn’t leave this gem of a hotel without having a full English breakfast .It was cooked to perfection and set me up for the day. Service throughout the hotel is slick and professional.

My most enjoyable mini escape over, it was back to reality with a huge bump.

By Daralyn Danns

Hotel Xenia is a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. Double room including breakfast from £150. For more information or to book, visit or call 020 7380 3658