We spent a morning at the beach in Barcelona and packed up come lunchtime and starting thinking about what to eat. Nothing at the beach looked appealing, with most of the xiringuitos blasting out extremely loud music. I suddenly thought of a Japanese place I’d been wanting to try and as we hadn’t had Asian food in a while, we were both game.

We hopped on the Metro and went to Passeig de Gracia and from there walked to c/Rosello and c/d’Enric Granados – it’s strange how just walking a few blocks from Rambla de Catalunya causes all the tourists to disappear! It was pretty much tourist-free around Akashi Gallery. For yes, the place I wanted to try is not only a sushi bar and restaurant but also a photo gallery and travel consultants. The restaurant could have been lifted directly from Japan – quirky furniture, cool plants, a raised tatami section, and even a small garden in the back. And the menu is full of things I want to eat – lots of authentic Japanese savouries but with an element of fusion apparent in the dessert menu.

Blai and I both went for the Akashi set (yes, one of those menus del dia), which included a nice little selection of different things from their menu. There were other sets available: sushi, sashimi, donburi. First to come was the miso soup, served like a first course. I would have preferred for it to be served with the rest of the food but my hunger meant that I slurped this up in no time at all.

Miso Soup

After our bowls were cleared, the sets were then brought out. Salmon sashimi, chicken and okara patties and a salad topped with Japanese potato salad were first served…

Akashi Set

…accompanied by onigiri (with mushrooms mixed in with the rice) and tamagoyaki. There’s enough variety there to keep you occupied!

Onigiri and Tamagoyaki

The sets come with ice cream or coffee/tea. Naturally, we both went for ice cream. Ginger for me (with lots of lovely candied ginger embedded within)…

Ginger Ice Cream

…and green tea for Blai.

Green Tea Ice Cream

We couldn’t help ourselves – we then asked for their dessert menu and ordered another one! An original old-fashioned kakigori ice shaver was calling to me by the sushi bar and it was the perfect weather for it too. Blai chose the strawberry and condensed milk kakigori which came out all luridly red but was utterly delicious.

Strawberry and Condensed Milk Kakigori

I finished the meal with coffee though from what I saw, it looks like they serve some fantastic tea. I’ll have that next time.

Coffee

Of course, you’re not limited to the set menus at lunchtime. There’s an a la carte menu available at lunch and dinnertime too. It’s a shame though that the gallery closes between lunch and dinner – their desserts would be fabulous for tea time! Nutella dorayaki or matcha tiramisu anyone?

Akashi Gallery
Rossello, 197
08036 Barcelona
Catalonia, Spain

That brings my holiday by the Med 2014 series to a close. All photos from Marseille and Barcelona (and Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Banyoles) can be found in this Flickr album.

We travelled onwards to Barcelona from Marseille, stopping by in Montpellier on the way there. After a whole week of eating out, it felt great to dine on home cooking again, all thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law! And this continued untl a few days into our visit, when we all took a day trip to Banyoles, a beautiful little inland town in northern Catalonia with a huge lake that, legend has it, has a dragon (we didn’t see any – Blai, you owe me a dragon). There’s plenty of history in the town and that lake – that lake! It’s all quite beautiful.

The Lake of Banyoles

Untitled

Untitled

It’s a lovely spot to visit if you can. There’s swimming in the lake and lots of nature to enjoy. However, after a long drive there, food was the first thing on our minds. I had done some googling the night before and Blai’s mother had reserved a table for us at Can Banyoles, a restaurant that was only about a five minute walk from the information centre at the lake.

Their lunch menu is only €12 per person (I’ve written about the menú del dia before) and you’ll see soon enough why this is quite the deal if you order well. For my first dish, I chose the local pear tomatoes with ham. These tomatoes were amazing – grown locally and with, yes, a pear shape, they were simple but fantastic. They were ripe and full of flavour and only needed a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pear Tomatoes with Ham

But Blai and his mother chose even better than I did – they ordered the rice cooked in a cassola. This took absolutely ages to arrive and when we demanded an explanation, we were told that this was cooked to order. What came out was a magnificent sight. That cassola was still bubbling as it was brought to our table.

Rice

The rice was portioned out for the two of them but the four of us could have easily shared all this. The rice had been cooked with some pork and peas and was infused with the flavour of seafood as well. It was delicious even if it was a bit on the soupy side. I helped myself to quite a bit as well – so so so good.

Rice

Second courses were good and hearty (seriously generous portions here) though not amazing. Blai’s botifarra with a garnish of grilled peppers and boiled green beans and potatoes was fine.

Botifarra and Garnish

Blai’s father’s curry was not too bad – quite a nice curry actually! The meat was tender and had a good spicing.

Curry

My calamari was well fried, not too greasy and generously portioned but became a bit dull halfway through. A garnish of some sort would have been nice.

Calamari

Desserts were very simple but it’s exactly what one wants after all that food. I went with juicy slices of watermelon…

Watermelon

…while Blai’s parents chose the crema catalana…

Crema

…and Blai went with a simple slice of torró ice cream.

Ice Cream

So yeah, really quite a bargain for €12, especially if you order that rice. Bookings are essential, even for lunch on a weekday – the place is popular with locals and visitors alike! I understand though that rice is only available on Wednesdays (from a conversation I overheard between a waitress and another customer). Go on a Wednesday!

Restaurant Can Xabanet
Plaça del Carme, 24
17820 Banyoles
Girona, Spain (Catalunya)

I happened to be browsing on my phone in Marseille when I came across an article that stated that the Cours Julien was where the young people go in the evenings. I immediately Google mapped it and to my surprise, it was not far at all from our flat, just in the opposite direction to that we’d normally instinctively go. And it turned out that the Cours Julien is a fabulous area – there are boutique shops and lots of restaurants and a big communal square and a playground. It’s a lovely place to be. We wandered around for a bit but immediately knew when we stopped in front of Le Resto Provençal that this was where we wished to dine.

And yes, their menu was full of Provençal specialities. In addition to their a la carte menu, they had two set menus and we opted to choose from their slightly cheaper one of €18,50 for three courses. There was already so much choice on that menu and there’s even more with their €24 set menu.

Blai went for the Petites seiches au basilic, which were served cold on a salad. Refreshing but simple, they were exactly what he desired, proclaimed he.

Petites seiches au basilic

I, remembering how good the soup was at Chez Fonfon, opted for the Soupe de poissons, which was listed as a house specialty.

Soupe de poissons

Oh glorious, glorious fish soup with your crunchy croutons, spicy garlicky rouille and shreds of gruyere waiting to melt on top of it all. And if the rouille wasn’t garlicky enough for you, a garlic clove was also provided to rub on the croutons. It was utterly delicious.

It was just after we finished our starters when the heavens opened and it started pouring. Proper buckets with lightning and thunder and everything. People who had been sitting outside all somehow managed to squeeze inside… and it was a tight squeeze! Luckily, by the time we finished our meal, the rained had slowed down but we did have to wait it out for a bit.

Pouring Outside

All the better weather for us to dive head first into our comforting main course – Alouettes sans tête, served with pasta. These long-braised stuffed rolls of beef were fabulous – full of garlic, parsley, pine nuts and bacon. They were cooked to falling-apart tenderness and were incredibly moreish and comforting. Oh wait, I said that already…but it’s true. So so so comforting.

Alouettes sans tête

Desserts were simple but perfect endings to the meal. We split a Petit flan de romarin

Petit flan de romarin

… and a Salade de fruits frais.

Salade de fruits frais

I never would have thought of incorporating rosemary into a dessert but it did work! And the fruit salad was a proper one full of ripe fruits. Ripe fruits.

It was a shame they close on Sundays (most of the restaurants on the Cours Julien do) as we were hoping to repeat this meal!

Le Resto Provençal
64 Cours Julien
13006 Marseille
(6e arrondissement)
France

It had been a lazy day in Marseille. We had missed the bus to Cassis and instead took another couple of buses to Marseille’s beaches south of the main city. A very lazy day by the beach. And what was for dinner that night? Pizza. Pizza in Marseille? Yes, and I was really looking forward to it, especially after my great pizza experiences in Nice a couple years ago and also another cheap pizza we scoffed earlier on this trip. My French colleague had sent me off with only one recommendation for Marseille – Chez Etienne – which specialises in, you guessed it, pizza.

The restaurant is easy enough to find in Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighbourhood just north of the port. We got there quite early (19:30) and got a table, no problem. However, it started filling up swiftly and when we left, it was completely packed. Get there early.

Pizzaria Etienne

Service was generally grumpy here. There was one or two friendlier waiters but in general, don’t expect anything too pleasant. It’s a good thing the food was good!

There are only two pizzas available at Etienne: anchovy or cheese. We followed the suggestion of my colleague and ordered a pizza moitié-moitié, half and half (€14). The pizza arrived on a tray and the surly waitress dumped half of it on each of our plates and whisked the tray away. The anchovy pizza was just anchovy and black olives and tomato sauce and was very good but what was even better was that ooey gooey cheese pizza (also with olives). The crust was thin and almost cracker-like; it felt like a particular unique sort of Marseillaise pizza. If I get the opportunity to return, I shall be only ordering that amazing cheese pizza.

Pizza

We followed our pizza starter with an order of their famous supions (€16), the little squids popular in the Marseille area. Here they had been sliced up and fried with a healthy amount of garlic and parsley and a little something to give them a bit of a coating – flour? Anyway, they were delicious, all garlicky and tender and made just perfect with a squeeze of lemon. The man next to us was also a visitor to Marseille and when he asked a (friendlier) waitress for a suggestion, she suggested the supions; I’ve also since heard that they’re considered some of the best in the city.

Supions

Bread (perfect for mopping up the garlicky juices) and a dressed salad were served alongside. However, we found the salad dressing to be just a bit too spicy, having been made with an uncomfortable amount of hot mustard.

Salad

The rest of their menu looked good, especially their pastas and meats we spied on neighbouring tables. The pizza is a must, though, and is what they’re famous for. Apparently in earlier days, everyone eating at the restaurant was forced to eat pizza as a starter!

Chez Etienne
43, Rue de Lorette
13002 Marseille
France

It was absolutely boiling in Aix-en-Provence. We were here in this former capital of Provence on a day trip from Marseille, having travelled very easily and smoothly along the highway by bus, a bus not dissimilar to the Oxford tube from London to Oxford. When we arrived, it was just about lunchtime and after seeing a couple of the very pretty buildings in the city, we then headed to Chez Charlotte on Rue des Bernardines for our midday meal. The restaurant was one recommended online but I had no idea what to expect, especially since the entrance didn’t seem particularly promising, all small and narrow. We walked through the empty restaurant to find that the action was really all the beautiful shaded back patio. Stunning really. And a cool relief that day too – we wouldn’t have to dip our toes into the fountains though that looked quite fun actually.

The back patio

Service matched the lazy, dreamy look of the back garden but as we weren’t in a rush to see anything in particular, we were fine with this. Refreshing chilled bottles of cold water were brought to the tables as we perused the very short menu.

Blai chose the day’s special starter of a salad with duck hearts. The hearts were grilled until tender and weren’t as offally tasting as I expected. He enjoyed it!

Salade avec Coeurs de Canard

My starter of oeuf en cocotte was incredibly simple but no less flavourful for it. An egg, sitting in a bed of creme fraiche, topped with cheese and baked until cooked. Ooey gooey goodness and so perfect for mopping up with baguette slices.

Oeuf en Cocotte

We both went for the dish of the day as our main course – roast leg of lamb (gigot d’agneau) with fried potatoes and runner beans. It was gorgeous. Tender slices of lamb studded with garlic cloves sat in its own jus – no mint sauce required here! The boiled runner beans with chopped onions were simple but good and the potatoes…I have no idea what variety of potato was used here but there was a hint of sweetness in its flesh.

Gigot d'Agneau

It felt wrong to leave without dessert. After watching a couple of ladies next to us tuck in enthusiastically into their desserts, I called the waitress over and ordered their charlotte. It didn’t look like much but that web of ladys fingers held together vast amounts of whipped cream and tangy forest fruits.

Charlotte

Two courses are €16 and three are €20. Either go early or try to make a booking. Most of the other customers were locals that lunchtime and there were only a few tourists…very few considering how many there were in the rest of the city.

Oh, and by the way, their steak tartare looked amazing.

Chez Charlotte
32 Rue des Bernardines
13100 Aix-en-Provence
France

All my photos from Aix-en-Provence can be seen here. It’s a beautiful city with plenty of history and lots to see. We went on a market day (Tuesday, also Thursdays and Saturdays) and I would highly recommend that if you like food and flower markets! Apart from just strolling the picturesque streets, the Musée Granet is also worth a visit.

We started our holiday with a bang. We were going to be spending two weeks by the Mediterranean, the first in Marseille and the second in Barcelona. The timing also coincided with our wedding anniversary and we were going to celebrate it by eating Marseille’s most famous dish – bouillabaisse. After scouring the internet and getting a few recommendations from friends, we settled for Chez Fonfon for lunch on our first full day in the city.

The walk to the Vallon des Auffes, where the restaurant is located, was longer than we expected from the port but we got there in the end (uh…give yourself time!). But when we did, we couldn’t see the restaurant anywhere (we were up at the top on le Corniche du Président-John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy). We should have paid more attention to the location – a vallon is a small valley – and sure enough, there were some stairs that took us down to this beautiful tiny harbour and there was the restaurant!

Untitled

Untitled

Le Vallon des Auffes

We got settled inside the very modern-looking restaurant quickly (that third photo above, that was my view!) and were brought delicious homemade taramasalata with croutons while we perused the all-fish, all-seafood menu. There are no other meats nor are there any vegetarians options from what I could tell. If you’re not a fan of anything that swims, stay away.

Taramasalata

We would share one order of bouillabaisse (there’s no need to order this in advance at Chez Fonfon – it’s so popular and they always have it everyday) and one of their fishes of the day, grilled with a side of our choice. The waitress ran to the kitchen to bring over a basket of the fishes they had available – there were red mullets, and a couple of fishes I didn’t recognise. After we asked for a recommendation, she suggested that the sea bream would be best grilled and we went with that, with panisses on the side. While we waited, we were again shown another basket of fish; this time, this was the selection of four fishes that would play a part in the bouillabaise.

After we had made our selections, we were brought an amuse – melon gazpacho, a lovely way to chill out that hot day. We appreciated having the windows open in the dining room as well; it was a hot day.

Melon Gazpacho

The grilled sea bream came first – it was presented to us tableside where a waiter filleted it. On the side were lemon, olive oil and a lovely generous bowlful of homemade tartar sauce (I hate it when you have to make do with a tiny ramekin’s worth). The fish was gorgeously fresh and so delicious just with a squeeze of lemon. The panisses on the side (made of chickpea flour) were lightly crisp on the outside, soft and moist on the inside, and surprisingly filling.

Filletting

Filleted Grilled Sea Bream

Tartar Sauce

Panisses

The sauces for the bouillabaise were already at our table; there was an aioli and the classic rust-coloured rouille. They did forget the croutons though and we had to ask for them – these are essential! A soup bowl was set down before me and a waiter came by with a large tureen and ladled a very dark fish broth into the bowl. By itself, it’s a great, flavorful fish broth, very dark and rich and comforting. But it really comes alive when you smear some of spicy and garlicky rouille on a crouton and float that baby in that bowl. Ah… I drank a lot of that soup. And we could have as much of the broth as we wished – that tureen kept making the rounds of the tables.

Aioli and Rouille

Bouillabaisse Broth

With Crouton and Rouille

The fish from the bouillabaisse was presented alongside not long after, on a bed of potatoes that had also been boiled in the broth. You could tell there were four different types though I can’t remember them all for the life of me. It was fun trying the different textures from the different species. Anyway, you eat the fish and you eat the potatoes and then if you’re like me, you try to fit in as much soup, croutons and rouille as you can.

Bouillabaisse Fish

After all that fish and soup, I could barely even think about dessert. What a shame, as their dessert menu was full of delicious sounding things! Chocolate fondant with a chestnut heart? Dammit – no space!  Blai found space for a selection of their delicious sorbets though. Their fruit flavours were just about perfect – I suspect they’re all homemade.

Sorbets

I just got a coffee which came presented with these excellent little sweets – delicious fruit jellies, orangettes and two types of calisson – regular (white) and rose-scented (pink). A sweet yet light (and caffeinated) end to the meal.

Sweets

Of course, this could hardly be called a budget lunch. The total was about €120, including mineral water and service. But then, this was an occasion that required something rather grand and I think we got it. Happy anniversary, my love!

Chez Fonfon
140 Rue du Vallon des Auffes
13007 Marseille
France

Bookings are essential.

So it turns out there’s a fantastic Malaysian restaurant in Croydon! Well, it’s in Thornton Heath, which is in the London Borough of Croydon and from what I can see, it’s quite the local favourite. Bunga Raya has been open for over 30 years and while the decor does look a bit aged, the food is still alive and kicking. We visited on a Sunday for lunch, when we discovered that they only served a “hawker style” Sunday lunch buffet. Yes, why not? It was only £11.50 a head.

The Buffet

Here’s my first plate. Char kway teow, fried meehoon, fish curry, chicken satay and yong tau foo (vegetables and tofu stuffed with meat or fish paste). That chicken satay was excellent, with a brilliant marinade, and you’ll soon see that we went back for seconds and thirds. The meehoon was better than the char kway teow but I think it’s just that meehoon (rice vermicelli) survives under heat lamps a little better. The curries were excellent and there were at least four or five on offer.

Char Kway Teow, Fried Meehoon, Fish Curry?, Chicken Satay, Yong Tau Foo

As we ate, the room kept filling up and many of the diners were Malaysian. Most were families, gathering together for a taste of home.

Next plate! Nasi lemak, chicken rendang, satay again, fried wonton, sambal okra. This plate was all sorts of excellent. The nasi lemak, while the grains of rice were a bit broken, had a good coconut flavour and the sambal okra, not too spicy but with lots of flavour and a touch of sweetness, was probably the best I’ve had in London.

Nasi Lemak, Chicken Rendang, Satay, Fried Wonton, Sambal Okra

Something I need to mention at this point is that everything tasted homemade. That fried wonton was chock full of a well seasoned chicken mixture and everything about it screamed homemade – it was excellent! It felt like eating in a Malaysian family’s home – they even welcomed all their regulars by name.

I had a laksa interlude at this point. It was a put-it-together-yourself affair – rice noodles and beansprouts in your bowl and then pour over the rich and creamy soup.

Laksa

Back to the big plates! Satay again (it was excellent!), more nasi lemak, fried Malaccan chicken wings (I think they’ve got something fishy in the marinade that gave it a deep savouriness), kari kambing and more sambal okra.

Satay, Nasi Lemak, Malaccan Winglet, Kari Kambing, Sambal Okra

There were lots of savouries I didn’t manage to try – somehow in my sambal okra excitement, I forgot to stop by the pigs trotters, the steamed dumplings and lots of other things too! I was impressed that they even had Penang acar (a pickled vegetable mixture) though, of course, it’s not as good as my mom’s!

There were desserts too. In addition to a huge platter of sweet orange wedges, there was a platter of banana puffs (kuih kodok, and they were ok) and a lot of refreshing mango and sago. And a platter of carrot cake as well though its texture and serving style was more reminiscent of a Malaysian cake – so perhaps it’s really a kek carrot?

Banana Puff and Mango with Sago

Before we left, I was invited to provide them with my email address so that I can be sent information about further buffets. It turns out that every fortnight, they change what’s on offer – one weekend was Hokkien mee and Hainanese chicken rice, another weekend was asam laksa and won ton mee! I just received the email with highlights of the buffet for the next two Sundays – mee rebus, bak kut teh and gula melaka!

Oh yeah, I’ll be back. Often.

They do have a regular a la carte menu for most other days – please see their website for their opening hours/days. They also advertise buffets on certain nights and also curry and karaoke nights!

Bunga Raya
785-787 London Road
Thornton Heath
Surrey CR7 6AW

Bunga Raya on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,927 other followers