ArchiveDecember 31, 2011

Soneva Fushi – Maldives

Soneva Fushi in the Maldives – by Darina Allen

For me the word ‘resort’ immediately rings alarm bells – not my kind of holiday. So when I was invited to cook a Slow Food dinner and give a cookery class in exchange for a few days holiday on a remote island resort in the Maldives called Soneva Fushi, I was a bit ‘iffy’. The name meant nothing to me but when I mentioned it in passing to a well travelled friend he was adamant that this was not an opportunity to pass up – after all it was chosen as Resort of the Year and Best Island Retreat 2010 By Conde Nast Traveller!

One can fly directly from Gatwick to Malé, an easy 10 hour flight.
From there, it’s a thrilling thirty minute hop on a sea plane to the tiny pontoon in the sea rather grandly named Soneva Fushi International Airport.

This flight was possibly the most spectacular I’ve ever encountered, flying over miles of atolls, reefs and lagoons, surrounded by azure blue water, breathtakingly beautiful and almost surreal.

Another few minutes by motor boat and we were there but not before our shoes had been confiscated, everyone walks bare foot on the island! It looked utterly beautiful, just like those tempting travel ads on TV except it is very real. A tiny palm fringed island with white sandy beaches that slope gently into the clear blue sea. The villas are all tucked between the trees towards the surrounding lagoon. Soneva Fushi remoteness is central to its charm, the ultimate in barefoot sophistication and large enough not to be bored yet small enough to get round easily – the island is just one and half kilometres in length and half a kilometre wide. All the villas had bikes so we could pedal along the sandy paths around the island. It only takes a few minutes to cycle to the Turtle beach, the Dive centre or the Six Senses Spa. Cycling my bike under the jungle canopy with my hair billowing in the breeze was so exhilarating, I felt as though I was eighteen again! Soneva Fushi has a strong environment policy, with a resident permaculturalist and a resident marine biologist who is deeply knowledgeable about the coral reefs and totally passionate about sustainable fishing. Her name was Kate, and I have a soft spot for her because she took me snorkelling for the first time at sixty two years of age. I was sure I was a lost cause , because I’m a particularly ‘scardy’ swimmer, but lovely Kate was undaunted – she trussed me up in a life jacket, showed me how to spit on  the goggles to keep the lens clear and launched me gently off the wooden steps of Bar (a) Bara. It was SO amazing, like swimming in an aquarium of exotic tropical fish, you can’t imagine the courage it took but now I wish I’d started forty years ago. The other highlight of our visit was meeting permaculturalist Mark Garret. He spent ages showing us around the organic vegetable and fruit gardens and explaining the principals of this totally logical sustainable system of agriculture – permaculture.

The owners of Soneva Fushi, Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, are completely committed to creating an interconnected holistic system and they are well on their way to doing just that. Growing vegetables in the tropics has its challenges, not just water; the soil here is highly acidic and lacking in nitrogen so Mark and his team of local gardeners are gradually introducing the missing elements through nitrogen fixing plants and compost. Mark has introduced a 21 day Berkley composting system which is proving to be highly successful and uses the available waste material from the island- leaves, paper, cardboard, coffee grinds… Priyantha Gallege also grows both shitake and oyster mushrooms very successfully in

Saw-dust, dolomite, magnesium sulphate, red rice husk and soy bean powder mixture.
 I’m looking forward to replicating his experiments here in Shanagarry.
So how about the food? Well there was was lots of it and in true resort style a myriad of choices so it didn’t really matter how ‘picky’ an eater you are, there are many delicious options for everyone. For me some of the highlights were the sublime fresh fruit on the breakfast buffet I think I can truly say that no where else in the entire world have I found such an amazing selection of beautifully ripe fruit, mangoes and papayas at the peak of perfection, lychees, rambutans, mangosteens, guavas, chermoyas, pineapples, pomegranates, three different varieties of bananas and melons…There were also chunks of fresh coconut straight out of the shell and foamy freshly squeezed juices. This area was Sirisene’s pride and joy. He rose at 4 am each morning to have his delectable array ready for guests. The cheese and cured meat and salami room was another surprise, a temperature controlled space with marble and glass shelves to display a variety of cheese and cured meats in beautiful condition, not easy at the best of times but a truly remarkable achievement in a tropical environment. Once again this was the pride and joy of another local chap with the biggest smile called Ravi Jayawardene He knew all about the cheeses, where they came from and was delighted to share his passion.

All the breads, desserts, ice creams and sorbets were also freshly made every day and were to be found in the Eversoneva room again at the edge of the eating area. Stephen Wheeler from the UK is the ‘big boss’ who coordinates all these eating options, there are forty chefs. He and his team were so welcoming and supportive. I had great fun cooking with his boys both in the Fresh in the Garden restaurant and the main kitchen. It was fantastic to have such lovely ingredients to cook with, some directly from the organic vegetable gardens. We stayed in the littlest villa – thatched and perfect for two but there are many options – the very essence of a castaway’s fantasy. Thirty three villas have private pools and the larger Jungle Reserve and Retreats incorporate the very first Maldives tree houses. I was so delighted to be able to just chill in my ‘lounger’ to just read a book or watch the sunset. Sporty types can do some serious or gentle diving from the Padi dive centre and course snorkelling – the sea is deliciously warm.

Several times a week there’s a film in the open air Paradiso cinema under the stars, or you can climb up to the observatory for an astronomy session. And then there’s the Six Senses Spa – names by Conde Nast Traveller as the Best Overseas Spa 2006 – seriously pampering.

For me who arrived as a serious sceptic, Soneva Fushi really worked its magic and I find myself wondering how soon I can return – for me it was a perfect place to relax one can choose to be reclusive or gregarious – there is no forced fraternisation which can be an excruciating element of some resorts. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the island but this seems to be a perennial problem for guests, almost everyone we met had been before and several people for the eighth time!

I feel this place has an intangible kind of magic that is hard to describe, the ultimate in barefoot luxury and you get your shoes back at the end!


What does it cost?
A seven night stay at Suneva Fushi can cost from USD 8250.00 for a double room with gorgeous sea views, private outdoor sitting area, private garden, it’s like a little luxurious home away from home. Do enquire about special package deals.

How to Get There
British Airways fly from Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick to Malé International Airport three times a week.
Maldavian Air Taxi fly at regular intervals. Soneva Fushi also has a private sea plane.
Soneva Fushi by Six Senses
Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Republic of Maldives
Tel: +960 660 0304, Fax: +960 660 0374
Places of Interest
There are lots of islands close by to explore and picnic on.

Holiday Cooking

Everyone is still in holiday mood this week, the kids are still off school, lots of opportunity to have fun, go for long walks, point to point…

If you have the strength there are terrific sales and bargains to be had in all the departments including Christmas treats – nothing like fresh air to whip up an appetite, so this could be the week to cook together and get the kids and teens peeling, chopping and mixing as well.

Jerusalem artichokes are in season now, a brilliant winter vegetable, with the highest inulin content of any vegetable. They are particularly valuable if you’ve been on a course of antibiotics which will whack the good bacteria in your system as well as the baddies, you’ll need to rebuild your beneficial gut flora and nothing will do the job faster than Jerusalem artichokes and delicious they are too. They look like knobbly potatoes and provide lots of fun peeling. Here’s the most delicious recipe for soup but they are also fantastically good thickly sliced and then roasted after they’ve been tossed in extra virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast them at about 200°C/400°F/Mark 6. When they have caramelised on one side, flip them over and continue to cook. Great as a vegetable or an accompaniment to fish, meat, or game but really gorgeous mixed with rocket leaves and roasted hazelnuts as a starter. How about a fine pot of stew made with shoulder of lamb or shin of beef. Let it bubble away slowly in the oven while you enjoy a long walk in the winter frost or sunshine.

A few floury Ballycotton Queens or a bowl of Champ would round off a perfect lunch or supper.

Everyone loves bread and butter pudding – we do a ton of varieties on this recipe, I’ll make a Seville orange marmalade version in a few weeks just as soon as I’ve made my marmalade, but the original is impossible to beat – loved by young and old.

The apple fritters are a quickie and the kids will love making them too – they cook into funny shapes with crispy edges that can be interpreted as little monsters or ghouls. Toss them in cinnamon sugar – Green Saffron has beautiful fresh cinnamon.


Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Avocado and Hazelnut Salsa


Serves 8-10

Jerusalem artichokes are a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants! For a simple family meal omit the avocado and hazelnuts.

50g (2oz) butter

560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.




Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa



1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1 cm dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.


Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons. 


Lamb Stew with Bacon, Onions and Garden Herbs



Serves 4-6

A big pot of bubbly strew makes the most comforting supper on a cold January day

If you’d rather not cover the top with peeled potatoes serve champ or colcannon separately. Let me tell you they smack their lips in France at the mere mention of a great big bubbling stew and now these gutsy, comforting pots are appearing on many of the smartest restaurant menus.


4 lb (1.8kg) gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)

12 ozs (350g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

a little butter or oil for sautéing

1 lb (450g) onions, (baby ones are nicest)

12 ozs (350g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

1 3/4 pints (750ml) approx. lamb or chicken stock

8-12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)

sprig of thyme

roux – (optional) Mushroom a la Crème (optional)



2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley


Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. 1/2 inch (1cm) cubes blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions and carrots, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.


Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.


When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.

The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some Mushroom a la Crème is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with chopped parsley.



Colcannon is another traditional mashed potato dish like champ, but with kale or cabbage instead of spring onions. For another variation try mashed parsnips, a delightful addition. Kale is in season at present, it’s a magic vegetable the most nutritious of all the brassicas.

Serves about 8

450g (1lb) Savoy cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)

1.3kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

about 225ml (8fl oz) milk

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter.

When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top. 


Bread and Butter Pudding


This is one of the older nursery puddings that has enjoyed a terrific revival, but initially it was just a way of recycling old bread, made with just milk and a scattering of dried fruit. It was something that you ate but didn’t necessarily relish. But there’s nothing frugal about this recipe – it’s got lots of fruit in it and a generous proportion of cream to milk. When people taste it, they just go ‘Wow!’ I know it has a lot of cream in it, but don’t skimp – just don’t eat it every day! We play around with this formula and continue to come up with more and more delicious combinations, depending on what’s in season and what we have around; see below for some of them.



Serves 6-8



12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed

50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice

200g (7oz) plump raisins or sultanas

450ml (16fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

175g (6oz) sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling

pinch of salt

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) square pottery or china dish

Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the spice and half the raisins, then arrange another

layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining nutmeg and raisins on top. Cover the raisins with the remaining bread, again, buttered side down.

In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream.


This bread and butter pudding reheats perfectly.

Delicious Bread and Butter Puddings can be made using

• Barmbrack as a base – add mixed spice or cinnamon.

• Pannettone – proceed as above.

• Brioche – proceed as above or use apricot jam and lace with apricot


• Rhubarb or gooseberry and elderflower compote (see recipe) or spiced apple purée may also be used.



Apple Fritters with Cinnamon Sugar


Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan.

Serves 6–8

110g (4oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) milk

good-quality vegetable oil, for frying

450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier

225g (4oz) caster sugar

1 x teaspoon cinnamon powder

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 180°C (350°F). Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄4in). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off, then drop into hot fat, a few at a time. Fry until golden brown, drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar mixed with cinnamon. Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.


Nana Peg’s Meat Pie


Serves 6 approximately

10 ozs (275 g) plain flour

6 ozs (175 g) butter

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 pint (500 ml) beef stock

2 lbs (900 g) round steak

salt and pepper

Oven proof dish 12 x 9 inches (30.5cm x 23 cm)

Preheat the oven 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6

Mix the flour with ¼ tsp of salt and pepper. Cut the butter into cubes and mix into the flour. Don’t over mix just enough so that you can still see the butter cubes. Add enough water to the flour and butter mix to make dough, and then knead lightly. Wrap pastry in cling film and put into the fridge too chill for 15 minutes.

Cut the steak into ½ inch cubes and roll in seasoned flour then put them into the oven proof dish. Put the chopped onions and carrots over the meat. Pour the beef stock over the meat and vegetables, not above the level of the meat. Take out the pastry and then roll in out to fit the dish, then lay it over the meat and have some pastry left over so that you can roll it and put around the side. Put into the preheated oven and after 10 minutes take it out and cover with tin foil, reduce the temperature to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 and cook for approximately 1 hour. Take the meat pie out of the oven and remove the tin foil, put back into the oven for approximately 10 minutes to brown.


Rapeseed Oil – Kitty Colchester brought me a delivery of Second Nature Rape Seed Oil freshly pressed last Monday from Drumeen Farm in Urlington Co Kilkenny the oldest existing organic farm in Ireland.

This is the week to make marmalade – take advantage of the extra help around the house and have chop and gossip session, the marmalade will be made in no time and they can all boast that they made it and will have the skills for life. I find the peel of organic marmalade oranges softens better. Cathriona Daunt sells organic Seville oranges – 0863623918.

Declan Ryan continues to expand his wheat flour range of artisan breads, we love the medieval loaf packed full of nuts and fruit with an Irish Farmhouse Cheese like Ardsallagh goats cheese, the perfect gift for a foodie friend.

Remember what milk used to take like before it was homogenized as well as pasteurised? Every Thursday the queue is getting longer at Mahon Point Farmers Market for beautiful Glenilen milk, freshly from the farm, pasteurised and sold in glass bottles. The cream rises to the top and is a forgotten flavour – almost as good as having your own cow – while you are there pick up some homemade butter, a couple of yogurts and some real cream – this is what real Irish produce is about –


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