13:20 EST, 31 August 2013
13:20 EST, 31 August 2013
When we were children we spent one glorious holiday on the tiny Greek island of Paxos. Just getting there was a mini-adventure in itself – a flight to nearby Corfu and then a ferry. My parents liked places out of the way. With six children, they were probably looking for somewhere cheap.
Dad would hire a boat with an outboard motor and we would pootle around the coast until we found a deserted beach. We’d pack a basket full of olives, cheese, tomatoes and water (we had a litre to share between us so we’d come back thoroughly dehydrated) and splash about in the sea all day.
Try this: Tom hands out pieces of his new pizza to guests at the Marbella Beach Hotel
During that holiday I also had my first experience of drinking raki. My brother George said afterwards I was dancing in the local disco with my eyes closed. Fifteen years on and my younger brother Henry and I decided it was time we returned to Greece with our own families.
I was joined by my wife Anna and our four children – Milo, 11, Beatrix, ten, six-year-old Josephine and Prudence, who is four; Henry came with his wife Jessica and their six-month-old daughter Elma. We had been invited to stay at Corfu’s Marbella Beach Hotel, which is about a ten-minute drive south of Corfu Town. It’s in a lovely location looking across the sea to mainland Greece and Albania – I hadn’t realised how close Albania was.
The property is a long established family business popular with Germans and French. The hotel had just undergone a major refurbishment, and the owners were looking for ideas for freshen up the menu. They had seen Henry and I on our Channel 4 show The Fabulous Baker Brothers (I’m a baker, he’s a chef) and invited us along to devise something new.
Away from the oven: Tom and his wife Anna relaxed at the hotel while their four children enjoyed the kids’ club
By arranging our stay over a school half-term holiday, we managed to combine a business trip with a family break, which was fantastic. I’d never stayed at a resort like this before, nor had I stayed anywhere on a half-board basis. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what the term meant – I thought it might involve sleeping in a very small bed, but it turns out it means you can pretty much eat your body weight in Greek food if you want to.
The hotel had a wonderful buffet, and it also had a lovely a la carte restaurant, where we ate one night. There were also some excellent local tavernas located nearby. We were keen to try the local cuisine as part of our research to devise something for the hotel’s menu. We had to discover the sort of food that Corfu does really well. We were not disappointed.
The mouthwatering masterpiece: Tom’s finished pizza
The hotel wanted our new recipe for their Italian restaurant, so we thought a different sort of pizza – a Corfu pizza – was the obvious choice. We were actually surprised that the hotelbut they were absolutely delighted with the idea. We found one of the key ingredients on the beach. At some holiday places we’ve been to, we’ve encountered beach hawkers selling counterfeit bags and watches, but here we were offered little bags of fresh curd cheese – this was foodie heaven.
The cheese had a wonderful texture which really soaked up the smoke from the pizza oven and absorbed other flavours, so it worked really well. Next, Henry found some great smoked and cured pork-loin. To the local cheese and local meat, we added a simple tomato sauce, and then the thing that hotel staff were very pleased with – kumquats.
The locals are big fans of this little fruit. Islanders also grow masses of rocket, so we just piled the salad leaves on top on the pizza and dressed it with a delicious black olive tapenade. It was a whole meal piled up on a plate, and I am pleased to say it was a huge success in the restaurant. Everybody loved it, which was very gratifying. I’m also pleased to say that our families really enjoyed the resort. My children had never been to a kids’ club before and they just thought they were in heaven.
They went off for three hours at a time, leaving Anna and me to enjoy a good rest. When work has been really, really hard, this is a great way to relax. As many parents will acknowledge, being on holiday with four kids isn’t a break if you’re having to constantly cook and care for them. This was the first time I’ve been able to sunbathe in about ten years – to lie on a sunlounger and read a book for a couple of hours was a novelty. The other thing I really liked about the hotel was the customer service which was superb.
For such a big hotel, the staff had an amazing capacity for knowing who we were, where we liked to sit and what we did and didn’t like when it came to meals. The problem is that the children have now been spoilt. They don’t want to go camping in the Lake District again – they are begging us to go back to Corfu next year.
Classic Collection Holidays (classic-collection.co.uk, 0800 294 9319) offers seven nights at the Marbella Beach Hotel, Corfu, from £1,034pp in a deluxe executive seaview suite on a half-board basis, or from £3,570 for a family of four (two adults and two children) sharing a deluxe executive seaview two-bedroom suite on a half-board basis this October. Prices include return flights from Gatwick (other UK departure airports are available) to Corfu and private transfers.