BEIRUT MELTS MY HEART WITH FROZEN FRUIT

What do Shakira, Salma Hayek, Amal Alamuddin (alias Mrs Clooney), Elie Saab (couturier to Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Kate Middleton) all have in common? They’re all Lebanese, as have been former presidents of Jamaica, Colombia, Ecuador (3!) and Brazil.

The Lebanese are an entrepreneurial nation and many Beirutis I have met are proud of the commercial spirit that comes from their innovative and enterprising Phoenician merchant heritage; those ancient founders of coastal colonies all over the Mediterranean, not least in Cádiz.

Promises of ice cream behind the awning

In 2019 we decided to see Beirut for ourselves. After a fascinating peak at the local cathedral, mosque and recently-excavated Roman ruins my ice cream fetish started to override any more thoughts of culture and our 11 and 6 year olds’ eyes flickered with increasing interest.  Having seen a particular ice cream parlour on one of Rick Stein and Nigel Slater’s UK BBC cookery programmes it had long been my ambition to try the Hanni Mitri ice cream for myself. So armed with former INC member Linda Talluto’s picture of the place we embarked on a monumental five-hour treasure hunt …on foot. There’s nothing like roaming through the streets of a city on a mission to savour superlative ice cream to really get to know it. If only our map had also marked the contours of all those steep hills that abound in Beirut.

Return visit for quality control purposes

After 5 hours I got very excited as we turned a corner and spied a very unassuming bullet-ridden corner shop at the end of a narrow road that I recognised from Linda’s photo. The children had virtually melted en route but were immediately revived and miraculously ordered strawberry and lemon flavour in fluent school French.

The family-owned business has been going since 1949 and has seen a few bombs in its time. There are no seats and no frills. The shop has since moved temporarily followed the Beirut blast in 2020 and the all the ice cream continues to be made on site daily.

We´ve struck gold at last

Mr Mitri and his diminutive mother were both expecting us to order and leave their minuscule premises but there was no getting rid of us. Buoyed up by fragrant iced perfumes and the cooling freezers we weren’t going anywhere. Copious ice creams and Mr Mitri’s family history later (he ditched banking to take on his father’s ice cream business) we finally re-emerged into the burning sun. As Mr Mitri isn’t coming here anytime soon I urge you all to book a flight just to try his ices.

Mr Mitri shows off his best selection

Mother Mitri uses plastic gloves to literally thumb the different flavours into narrow biscuit cones or down into a plastic cup that literally defies any normal physics of mass and volume. So you end up with rainbow ribbons of zingy oranges and lemons nudged into a corner by the heady aromas of rosewater sorbet and all tempered by a snow-white coating of clotted cream or “ashta”. In addition to the more traditional flavours, you can find mulberry, watermelon, mango and amareddine which is an apricot paste sorbet filled with crunchy toasted pine nuts.

Mitri´s magic snow

There is clearly no need to fix up the bullet holes (one of them is actually embedded inside his ice cream machinery) as people are more interested in what’s in their hand than on the wall.

Now, you might think that 3,500 km is a long way to fly, albeit on a direct flight, for an ice cream but actually when you factor in all the ancient culture and the boundless hospitality on tap in Beirut it´s definitely worth it.

However, if you do find yourself on an authentic ice cream mission in Madrid here are a few of my favourites closer to home:

Solo Naturale in Alcobendas, with its focus on premium natural ingredients,

Heladeria Gioelia is a favourite amongst our treasurer, Shalini. Particularly the Cremino flavour of white chocolate with hazelnuts and chocolate praline cream. Most importantly, they also deliver!

Gioelia serves up one of its gems

Heladeria Los Alpes is one of Madrid´s oldest ice cream parlours, since the Tuscan founders arrived here in 1933 and has a few branches across the city and suburbs including Las Rozas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.

Meanwhile if alchemy is more your style, head to N2LAB where liquid nitrogen is the star ingredient and the resultant creamiest of creams are served up by staff in scientific overalls and protective glasses in Calle Gravina, 5 (Chueca).

Ice cream to blow your mind at N2LAB

After a gander round the Retiro I usually make a beeline for Maison Glacée which also doubles up as an innovative pastry shop. Ecological milk from the Comunidad de Madrid is used to ease out what for me is the most authentic Italian style ice cream in the capital in Calle Alcalá 77 and Calle Ibiza, 42

Italian INC member, Tiziana is rather partial to Gelateria Sienna on Calle Narváez and I´m inclined to believe her so I shall be heading there on my next trip into the city.

Finally, there is ubiquitous global brand, Amorino whereby exotic ices are fashioned with a spatula into the shape of a rose. Each flavour forming a different petal. My favourite branch is in El Corte Inglés Gourmet section in Callao from which you can admire spectacular views over Madrid´s rooftops.

Spotlight on Jo Ball

Today Susannah talks to fellow Brit, Occupational Therapist, former valet parking assistant to the stars, business woman, teacher, flower arranger, charity volunteer and intrepid sailor, golfer and mountain biker, Jo Ball who has illuminated INC members’ lives with her radiant awe-inspiring attitude since 2021.

Always on board with anything and everything aged 22

Where are you from originally?

I’m from a scenic rural town nestled firmly within the county of Northumberland, an hour’s drive from the Scottish borders.

My love of everything outdoors stems from living this bucolic life with the added bonus of having the most beautiful beaches within a 10-mile drive.

When I was younger I loved to ride …..is there anything more exhilarating than a flat out gallop on the beach?

Enjoying Northumberland on 2 wheels

Talk us through your varied career

After school I followed my hippy heart to LA to study nursing but realized it wasn´t for me. Like many students I had a few jobs and in LA I worked as a carparking valet at a prestigious nightclub which meant I had the opportunity of parking several Lamborghinis and other luxury cars belonging to the likes of Eddy Murphy, Janet Jackson and Metallica to name a few….having just passed my driving test.

On my return to the UK I trained to become an Occupational Therapist and as my career progressed I turned to teaching and taught hospital staff how to manage patients in the community.

Two peas in a pod

How did you meet your husband?

I met my partner when he was 18 and I was 21 in a night club…we are still in love today as we were all those years ago……31 years this year we have been together. He is the very best part of me.  When I feel homesick I only have to look at him and I know that I am home.

You also have an entrepreneurial streak and a strong creative flair

Whilst working for the National Health System I had a long- standing love affair with flowers and undertook many courses before setting up my own business specialising in wedding flowers and then it wasn´t long before Italy beckoned.

Jo takes the helm round the island of Elba

What were your impressions of living in Emilia Romagna for three years?

Italy stole my heart and I must return one day to get it back. In Italy we scoured the countryside, travelled every weekend or I went alone midweek discovering more and more about who I was or what I really wanted out of life.  We tried each and every vineyard en route, delighted in the local food, took up sailing and chartered our own boat around Elba Island with our old dog and learned some hair-raising lessons and a great respect for the sea. We were fearless.

It was in Italy that I fell in love with mountain biking but alas I did not have the stamina to attack the hills at my age nor the inclination so we bought electric mountain bikes and my love of cycling has and does remain quite obsessive. It has replaced my love of horse riding once my magnificent mount died and I still now cycle everyday with gusto.

Jo gets into the swing of it

What other sports are you interested in?

In 2019 I took up Golf, a sport I have fallen in love with and brought my love of it here to Madrid where I try to play every week. A walk on the golf course is like meditation to me and can quieten the noisiest of minds.

Camping respite in Lozoya during hectic treatment

Since early retirement from your hospital career, what charity work have you been involved in?

After Italy we returned to the UK for 2 years where I had decided that, as I was now retired, it was time to pay it forward to my community and help where I could.  In 2018 I became a Trustee for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We constantly have to raise money to support our local centres that house thousands of neglected animals.

I also worked as a volunteer fundraiser for a hospice that provides invaluable palliative care at home in my local rural community. The RSPCA and Hospice Northumberland are two wonderful charities close to my heart and a privilege to work for.

Jo receives treatment shortly after moving here

What does INC mean to you?

I walked into an INC coffee morning on my own one day in 2021 and met some forever friends and kindred spirits.

 INC has brought me great happiness when sometimes the days could appear a little dark after a double cancer diagnosis in 5 months after moving here. It gave me an opportunity to discover a sisterhood of wonderful, strong, beautiful women. It forced me out of the house when I wanted to dive back under the duvet and it established a normality I greatly needed.

There are two ladies in particular (you know who you are) who have shown me such kindness and support during days when the sun refused to shine.  Thank you …….you are now part of my story forever.

A favourite cycling haunt in the Escorial

Cilindro

Last Saturday I went to Peru. Or at least it tasted like it. No PCR´s, no jet lag. Just a quick trip over to the Barrio de Salamanca to find Cilindro. The night didn´t get off to the best start. Finding a parking space in the street is akin to looking for an honest politician so we headed to the nearest carpark. Ten minutes later I was on the phone pleading with the restaurant not to give away our table as it turned out the so-called Parking was only fit for contortionists in a Fiat 500. After 65,000 manoeuvres and a few prayers we managed to squeeze the car into a space the size of a shopping trolley.

We then legged it round the block to the restaurant, past the outdoor terrace and the indoor high tables down to a welcoming cavernous dining room below decks.

Cilindro is the brainchild of Mario Céspedes and Conchi Alvarez. Mario hails from Lima and later emigrated to Asturias which adds an alluring layer to his international melting pot of fusion flavours at both Ronda 14, his original restaurant and Cilindro.

Rainbow palate of flavours

Within minutes a Peruvian waiter with Mensa-brain capacity memorised our order of half portions of numerous sharing plates or “piqueos” as they´re described and was able to divulge the ingredients of each dish with precision and enthusiasm.

We start off with one of my favourite dishes of all time: Ceviche. Husband tucks in heartily mumbling that this must be a synch to make, considering he can barely fry an egg I´d be very interested to know how he´s going to come up with cubes of firm-fleshed raw fish marinaded in lime and rocoto chilli in a creamy sauce.

Double Trouble

As usual I feel compelled to request some spicy “ají” salsa on the side to authenticate the food. A generous dish of crimson red gloop appears. I promptly decide this must be spicy ketchup and start to bathe my seabass in it. Next thing I know Volcán Ubinas is in full scale eruption in my mouth and starting to spue smoke out of my nostrils. Husband snorts with laughter.

Call the fire brigade

We order some Pisco Sours to ease the pain, the Peruvian national drink, although don’t mention that to any Chileans as also they claim it to be theirs. The heated dispute over the heritage of this colourless distillate makes the clash over Gibraltar look like child´s play. Either way, Pisco was by far the hardest drink for me to give up in pregnancy. The combination of grape brandy and a frothy bubble bath of raw egg white sprinkled with Angostura Bitters was much more tempting than pineapple pizza for some reason.

A truly sour dispute

The restaurant takes its name from the “cilindro”, a traditional Peruvian cylindrical oven-grill for smoking and grilling. Céspedes has resurrected this Criolla contraption to great acclaim as I witnessed. Not a regular fan of “casquería” (offal) I happily gobble up every last morsel of the slow roasted tripe basted in cumin and paprika with black pudding: “Callos rachi al cilindro con morcilla asturiana”. Likewise the exquisitely-seasoned miniature Beef heart cube (“anticucho”) Gyozas with chilli and coriander slip down with unmeasurable ease.

I will never go off my offal again

The cilindro also exuded its magic on the silky smooth smoky pulpo which was so delicious I had to blank out the more emotional scenes from the docu-movie: My Octopus Teacher from my mind.  Oozing with unctuous squid sauce, Peruvian olives and “olluco”, a vitamin-rich Andean root vegetable, this was a cracker dish.

The one that escaped Netflix

We rounded off our savoury South American jaunt with the ubiquitous Bao, this time of “Rabo de Toro”; shredded stewed oxtail trapped between a delectable chewy bread bun that had been flashed over the griddle pan, a welcome original touch. Just the sort of sneaky snack I like to sink my teeth into mid-morning when the post-porridge munchies set in.  

Feeling fruity?

Puddings beckoned in the shape of “Cilindro de chocolate”, an intense chocolate mousse with perfectly ripe headily-scented mango ice cream which soothed the volcanic chilli craters forming on my tongue. We also tried the creamy lucuma fruit blancmange with tart strawberry sherbert. Lucuma is a centuries-old superfood known as the “Gold of the Incas”, famed for its age-retardant antioxidants and fertility properties. I was tempted to smear it over the wrinkles round my eyes as opposed to ingest it and risk a geriatric pregnancy. Although…watch this space in 9 months´ time…

Cilindro Restaurante

Address

Calle de Don Ramón de la Cruz, 8328006 Madrid

Telephone

910663356

Website

www.facebook.com/cilindrorest

Instagram @cilindrorestaurante

Spotlight on Mariate Vidal

This month we delve into the life of Mariate Vidal who has spent 20 years abroad and comes from a long line of Spanish Pharmacists. Not content with managing one of her family´s chemists in her home town of Tarragona, Mariate has acquired a PhD in Microbiology and two Masters in Food Science and Human Nutrition respectively.  Nowadays Mariate is putting her renowned cookery course skills to good use and enjoying her multitude of hobbies and industrious charity work.

Mariate enjoys Richmond Park, London

You´re now living in Madrid for the first time, after 2 decades years abroad, what is like to be back in Spain?

Funnily enough, it did take quite a bit of adjustment as we´d never lived in Madrid before.  I missed the international aspect of my life, hence joining INC and despite not being able to attend many events for obvious reasons it has been a positive experience.

Mariate´s life has taken many courses

Where have you lived before?

I grew up in Tarragona and went to University in Barcelona before moving back home to work in a Pharmaceutical Laboratory and do a PhD in Microbiology. After getting married we moved to Toronto due to my husband´s job and from there to Milan, Dublin and finally London where we spent 11 very happy years.

La Dolce Vita

Tell us about living in Milan

I erroneously assumed that by speaking a mixture of Spanish, French and Catalan I could make myself understood in Italian. We lived in the very chic area of Brera, in the thick of all the upmarket boutiques, museums and restaurants which was quite a contrast to the bucolic Toronto suburbs. However, we embraced the city and were soon nicknamed “Los Amigos” by the affectionate owners of a lovely local trattoria where we became regular fixtures.

Mariate cooks her native tortilla at a London street party

I don´t think I have ever met woman who embraces such diverse pastimes. What sort of activities did you enjoy in whilst living abroad?

I have always sought to take full advantage of every posting. In Toronto I took English and French lessons, cooking classes, learned to ice skate and I even enrolled in a Landscaping course at the University of Toronto, in addition to gardening courses at local community centres. In Milan I took up Italian and soaked up all the art, fashion and design features of our local area. Our time in Dublin was quieter because my hands were full with both babies.

In London, in addition to cookery I took photography courses, joined the PTA at our daughters’ school and became a volunteer in public health activities. I also studied a Masters in Human Nutrition and did a professional cookery course which led to a job as a Cookery Teacher Assistant at school and discovered I really enjoyed teaching.

Mariate the pharmacist at the pharmacy

Where does your interest in Science stem from?

It runs in the blood as I am a third-generation pharmacist. My father set up an analytical laboratory and my mother ran her own pharmacy so I was surrounded by science since birth!

Your passion for food has also taken on a more gastronomic approach, tell us about your prestigious cookery course you completed in London

Ironically I was a very fussy eater as a child however, during my Pharmacy degree we had to study food science for a year and that became one of my favourite subjects. I hadn´t cooked much before getting married so I took cookery classes when we lived in Toronto. Later on, I enrolled at Leith’s School of Food and Wine fulltime in London with the support of my husband and some childcare. It was a highly demanding yet stimulating experience which I thrived on and now I know how to make proper scones!

Indi enjoys the snow in Richmond Park, London

What international customs have your family absorbed into your own culture/family life?

Plenty of gastronomic ones! Such as maple syrup, porridge for breakfast and my daughters appreciate Indian food after their weekly curry school lunches in London!

What is your role at Manos Unidas charity?

This is a wonderful NGO whose aim is to empower local communities to tackle hunger, health and sanitation issues in Third World countries. I prepare reports on the various projects that Manos Unidas will get involved in for potential investors. My previous academic and professional background is useful and the work is stimulating. I then write up the final reports to show the donors how their money has been spent.  It´s a fascinating role because it´s opened my eyes up to the needs of many different countries as well as the inner workings of an international organisation.

Aquaduct culture in Segovia

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?

That’s a difficult one…  I would love to have several next lives… So that I could be a Oxford/Cambridge professor, or maybe a travel or science journalist or even a chef like José Andrés or Massimo Bottura, who, besides being good at what they do, use their skills and influence to help people in need.