You can’t go to Boston and not have seafood and one of the hottest places in the city to dine on seafood is the highly lauded Island Creek Oyster Bar and I managed to get a table for 5 of us at 9:30pm one night. Island Creek Oysters is still a working oyster farm today and we even had some of their oysters at Myers+Chang – this restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, brought the farmer even closer to the diner.

Despite our making a booking though, we had to wait for almost an hour for our table as the restaurant ended up with more people than it could handle. (Actually, this seemed to be the case at all of Boston’s restaurants that weekend – there just seemed to be a huge influx of tourists in the city.) And we weren’t the only ones – we were all crowded at the entrance and the front of house did their best to calm the screamers (I’m not joking – there were some nutjobs waiting for a table too). When we were finally seated, we could see that the restaurant was larger than expected, curving round to the side, and that it looked great. And yeah, it was packed.

We ordered quite a few things and shared them all. We started with their Clam Chowder, made with hand-dug clams and house-cured bacon and a little buttermilk biscuit on top. The restaurant was kind enough to split two orders into five bowls for us, removing any need to figure out how to share it without swapping germs. Creamy and good even if the very strong bacon flavour surprised me at first.

Clam Chowder

A side order of a full-sized buttermilk biscuit was utterly gorgeous. American-style biscuits are one thing I really miss here in London and this one was just perfect, all tender and flaky and glazed with honey.

Buttermilk Biscuit

Fried Clams were insanely good – actually, all the fried seafood I had in Boston was excellent.

Fried Clams

The clams came with some fries but we ordered another side of them just in case we didn’t have enough food. It turns out we had enough food and really didn’t need these fries, however excellent they were.

Hand-cut Fries

I’d heard a lot about the restaurant’s Ethel’s Lobster Roll and we ordered two to split. They were delicious, each was overflowing with lobster pieces just held together by the mayo dressing. Forgive me, but I would have preferred fries to the potato chips (crisps) on the side but that’s just my preference.

Ethel's Lobster Roll

Another favourite of mine was Mrs Bennett’s Seafood Casserole. This was a very generous mixture of seafood cooked with seafood stock, cream and a bit of tomato paste amongst other nice things and topped with crushed crackers. It was lush and we kept finding lots of things including a small lobster tail that we split between us. I need to learn how to recreate this.

Mrs Bennett's Seafood Casserole

A colleague’s order of Herb Crusted Gloucester Cod was fine but not as exciting to me as all the other treats. Still, it was a unique to me combination of beans, yellow beans, chorizo and hot peppers underneath that large chunk of cod.

Herb Crusted Gloucester Cod

Orders from the raw bar took the longest as they were clearly getting hammered by the late night crowd. Fluke Crudo were slices of raw fluke marinated with orange, lime and sesame and there was a bit of chilli in there for spice too.

Fluke Crudo

A couple of us got oysters – these Chatham oysters were lovely and meaty (I prefer the flat meaty kinds to the large plump creamy types). I’ll never understand the need for cocktail sauce on an oyster though.

Chatham Oysters

I felt like exploding after that meal – there really was no space for dessert. I wish I’d left a little space for their peach cobbler but we were having trouble keeping our eyes open too after the long day (yeah, everything after this was a bit of a blur). Actually, I wish I could have tried everything on their menu.

If you’re curious, I think it worked out to about $45 per person. It’s a really fun, buzzing restaurant that I certainly highly recommend. Bookings are a must.

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave
Boston MA 02215
USA

Island Creek Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Did you watch the BBC series Italy Unpacked where Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon travel together around Italy, looking at gorgeous Italian art and eating gorgeous Italian food (their first series together was Sicily Unpacked)? Yeah, two of my favourite activities, together at last. On one recent programme, they traveled to Livorno, on the coast of Tuscany, and there Locatelli cooked an incredible looking fish stew from that city. The video clip where Locatelli cooks this cacciucco can be seen here. You can see why I suddenly felt the need to make one of these fish stews the next day.

The story goes that you want at least five different types of fishes in this stew, one for each ‘C’ in the word ‘cacciucco'; Locatelli mentioned 17 in the programme but this seems a bit over the top for just two or four people! Use as many as you can get – it’ll still taste great with just two or three different types of seafood. After referring again to the video and then to online recipes, I came up with the recipe below. It’s super easy; it’s only a bit of a pain getting the variety of fish unless you have a great fishmonger nearby.

Cacciucco

Cephalopods are first cooked in a base of wine, tomato and fish broth and after their long stewing, the fishes then spend a grand total of five to ten minutes in their delicious bath to ensure that they’re not overcooked. The finished dish is full of flavour and would make a great dinner party dish as it’s quite the showstopper coming to the table. Do make sure to serve it with lots of bread to soak up the lovely broth.

Cacciucco
serves 4.

2 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large pinches of dried chilli flakes
3 tbsps tomato paste
about a glass of red wine

1 large squid, cleaned and cut into pieces
a handful of whole prawns
assorted other fishes – I used a chunk of monkfish, the tail end of some pollack, a couple of jacks (excellent) and a small red snapper

Fishes

For fish stock:
1 onion, cut in large chunks
1 carrot, cut in large chunks
1 bay leaf
parsley stems
fish trimmings
(or 1-2 cups fish stock)

For serving:
thick slices of a good white bread (a baguette will do)
a large clove of garlic
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

First, make your fish stock. I include a quick recipe for it here but if you’ve already got fish stock, by all means, please use it! In a pot, place your onion, bay leaf, parsley stems and fish trimmings (I used trimmings from the fish I was going to use in my cacciucco and the prawn heads). Pour over about 2-3 cups water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and continue stirring for another minute. Add the squid and saute for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and fry until it darkens slightly. Pour in the wine and let it bubble way for a bit for the alcohol to dissipate. Pour in the fish stock (I used about 2 cups) and bring to boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and let simmer away for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes are up, it’s time to cook the fish! Place in the whole and larger meatier fishes first, let them have a little time in there, and add the rest of the fishes/prawns in stages. When everything is just cooked, turn off the heat.

Cacciucco Bubbling Away

Toast the bread and rub both sides with the garlic. Lay in a single layer in a serving dish. Carefully pile up the seafood onto the bread and spoon over the broth, making sure all that bread is soaked. Sprinkle with parsley if you have it.

Toasted Bread with Garlic

Serve with more of the broth on the side (dunking extra bread in it is so good).

Cacciucco

Also just before the holiday season, I was invited to an event by Seafood from Norway to highlight the seafood delights from that Nordic country; this was a one-off supperclub to promote sustainable Norwegian Seafood in the UK and it was to be catered by Signe Johansen, cookbook author and brunch/supperclub hostess extraordinaire. The location was Republic of Fritz Hansen in central London, a gorgeous shop selling the best of Scandinavian design (why has no one told me of it?!).

The table was already starting to fill up with delicious morsels while people were arriving to the shop. Cured salmon with a shot of Linie aquavit, rye pannekaker, sour cream and pickled fennel was a delicious, and substantial, bite – I loved the pickled fennel with the sour cream and the cured fish.

Cured Salmon with a Shot of Linie Aquavit, Rye Pannekaker, Sour Cream and Pickled Fennel

If I had to choose favourites though, the other canape floated my boat more – the Sweet Norwegian prawns with wild dill pollen mayonnaise, lumpfish roe, pickled cucumber on sourdough crisp bread. These light little bites were perfectly balanced – creamy, crispy, sweet, salty, sour. Yes, yes, I do like Norwegian prawns, thank you very much.

Sweet Norwegian Prawns with Wild Dill Pollen Mayonnaise, Lumpfish Roe, Pickled Cucumber on Sourdough Crisp Bread

Battered cod cheeks with dill, anchovy and pickled cucumber salsa were another favourite; we were burning our fingers and spilling that moreish green sauce everywhere as we hastily scooped it up.

Battered Cod Cheeks with Dill, Anchovy and Pickled Cucumber Salsa

At this point, Signe emerged from the kitchen to tell us all about her Norwegian background and her love for seafood. The menu was sort of a taster of what a Norwegian Christmas table could feature if it was only all about the seafood (I think meat does feature traditionally). Completely unbeknownst to us, the woman sitting to Signe’s right in the photo below was the award winning Bridget Hugo, who runs Bread Bread in Brixton.

Bridget and Signe

Bridget’s breads were pretty spectacular. The brown one below was made of all rye and included slightly fermented rye grains. The half whole wheat also included some white flour and rye flour. Both were great with a good schmear of butter and we ate plenty of it just as is.

Rye Bread White/Whole/Rye Bread

We also scoffed quite a bit of bread with the next dish – Lightly-cured halibut with lemon and elderflower. Elderflower and fish? It was absolutely fantastic and I could have easily cleared the entire platter. It was my first time eating halibut in this cured way and I loved it.

Lightly-Cured Halibut with Lemon and Elderflower

Platters of salt-baked celeriac and a colourful kale and spelt salad now appeared on the table, ready to accompany our main course of Roast haddock with bacon and rye crisp.

Salt-Baked Celeriac Kale and Spelt Salad

And here was my plate. A modest serving as I had filled up on uh…prawns on crispbread. The haddock was lovely but I’m not a fan of the rye bread crisp on top. I understand that this topping is commonly used to top apple crisp in Sweden… and at last year’s Swedish Blind Date, it was made clear to me that it is perfectly awful. It’s indeed one way to use up leftover bread but I’ll give it a miss!

Roast Haddock with Bacon and Rye Crisp

After the meal, Signe then cheerfully brought out shots of aquavit for everyone…

Signe Brings Out the Aquavit

…which I passed and instead went straight for her fantastic homemade pepperkaker. A brick of brown cheese was also brought out and surprisingly, it pairs well with the pepperkaker.

Pepperkaker

Thank you very much to Lisa from Bray Leino for the invitation! It was a great introduction to Norwegian seafood and Norwegian cuisine prior to my business trip to Oslo.

For Norwegian Seafood in London, ask your local fishmonger or supermarket fish counter. I’ll be on the lookout for those prawns. To try some of Signe’s cooking, take a look at her website for updates.

I was looking forward to a day out to one of Hong Kong’s smaller islands but I was to choose between Cheung Chau and Lamma Island. I went with the smaller island – Cheung Chau – mainly because it sounded like fun and heck, it’s home to the bun festival every year (not that we’d get to see it that day). It was a quick half hour ferry ride from Central and we emerged onto an island that was just as crowded as Hong Kong island but with a more relaxed, holiday feel to it.

Apparently, the thing to do on Cheung Chau is eat seafood. With empty stomachs, we wandered down the road and ended up at one place where the tables were packed and the food looked good. The New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant, it was!

New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant

What a lovely spread we had out there in the sun (yes, about 20C that winter day)! Scrambled egg with prawns was the first to our table and it was excellent, all fluffy egg and juicy, crunchy prawns.

Scrambled Egg with Prawns

Stir fried gai lan with garlic was crunchy and all the green we needed.

Stir Fried Gai Lan with Garlic

The salt and chilli squid was greaseless and crisp and made up for a hard and greasy version the previous day at Hay Hay Kitchen in Wan Chai.

Salt and Chilli Squid

Salty, carby goodness came in the form of chicken and salted fish fried rice.

Chicken and Salted Fish Fried Rice

Our steamed garlic scallops came with a wonderfully ridiculous amount of sweet garlic and unexpected but pleasantly slippery mung bean vermicelli. We scraped the contents of each shell straight into our mouths.

Steamed Garlic Scallops

Finally, a whole steamed fish, a Cantonese classic. We picked it clean.

Steamed Fish

The seafood was all magnificently fresh though I doubt they’ve been caught very locally. I was told most of the waters surrounding Hong Kong had been fished clean though I did see a few fishing boats come in with a small catch and some fish and prawns being dried in the sun. Local or not local, with the warm sun on our backs, fresh breeze on our faces and cold drinks in our hands, this was a memorable lunch.

New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant
9A G/F Pak She Praya Road
Cheung Chau
Hong Kong

With full bellies, we strolled around Cheung Chau’s car-less streets and over to the beach on the other side too. And I knew Hong Kong was famous for its wide variety of street foods but the variety of snacks available on Cheung Chau was still amazing and surprising. Fish balls, deep fried mochi ice cream, sticky rice cakes, popcorn, waffles, egg waffles, ice cream, shaved ice, pastries, grilled squid … all that temptation was just too great.

We first stopped at the Grand Plaza Cake Shop (91B, Hoi Poi Road, Cheung Chau) where a large crowd was jostling for just-out-of-the-oven egg tarts of both the Hong Kong and Macanese varieties. We had one of each – the mini dan tat (the Hong Kong version) was particularly tasty.

Macanese Egg Tarts Mini Egg Tarts

One of Each

We couldn’t pass up this Taiwanese shaved ice stand and I walked away with this aromatic guava one. The flavours are already frozen into the ice block and the shaved ice almost resembles freshy fallen snow in its consistency – all light and fluffy.

Shaving Ice

Guava Shaved Ice

Finally, on the way back to the ferry port, my first tornado potato! It’s a single potato spiral cut on a stick and mine was fresh out of the fryer. A bank of shakers in front of the shop allowed you to custom flavour your fried potato however you wish – there was curry, extra hot, chicken and garlic powders all along mine. Salty, greasy, good.

Tornado Potato

Needless to say, go with empty stomachs to Cheung Chau. To get to the island, take a ferry from Central Pier 5 in Hong Kong. You can use an Octopus card to pay – did I mention my love for their Octopus card? I love that all transport around Hong Kong can be paid with it and many eating establishments also accept payment with it.

I always find that I need to get out of London come Easter time (after a particularly busy few months at work) and always try to book a little minibreak out of the city. Luckily, Blai could take a few days off and so it was that at about noon last Thursday, we arrived in Hastings. I was so looking forward to seeing the sea and what 1066 Country could offer.

First, we had to feed ourselves! I had made a lunch booking at Maggie’s, an award winning fish and chip restaurant located on the Stade, Hasting’s shingle beach from which Europe’s largest beach launched fishing fleet launches each day. The restaurant wasn’t easy to find; we got directions at one of the small museums nearby on Rock-a-Nore Road. To get there, find the Stade end of the miniature railway and you’ll see a sign for Maggie’s on the first floor of a nearby building. It’s not really visible from the Rock-a-Nore Road.

We chose to split two different fishes: a single cod and chips (£6.60) and a haddock and chips (£6.30), which turned out to have two pieces of fish.

Cod and Chips

Haddock and Chips

These were excellent. Seriously, these were quite possibly the best fish and chips I’ve had to date. As you’d expect from a restaurant located on a major fishing beach, the fish was of supreme freshness and quality. And it was beautifully fried with the batter perfectly crisp and the fish perfectly tender and flaky. And the chips weren’t relegated to being the stuff on the side; these chips could also have taken centre stage. Ragged and crisp on the outside, fluffy and soft on the inside, these were just perfect chips.

We had mushy peas (£1.20) on the side, which were pretty good.

Mushy Peas

Bookings are essential, even for weekdays! The restaurant was booked fully that Thursday and people were turned away. They open very early in the morning and close after lunch.

Fully Booked

After lunch, we wandered around Hastings Old Town and somehow ended up at the top of the East Hill. From the hill, we watched as the last of the fishing boats came back to the beach. We explored the Stade after and loved looking at the boats, nets and other fishing paraphernalia. It’s no surprise the fish sold in Hastings is so fresh – more of the fishmongers are located about 100 m away from where the boats get pulled up on the shore.

Fishing Boat

Somehow, we also managed to spend one and a half hours walking along the beach and examining the shingle. I love holidays, however short they are.

For dinner, we returned to Rock-a Nore Road to Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore. While I had read good reviews of this restaurant online, the meal was a bit of a let-down. The seafood was all extremely fresh, as I’ve now come to expect from anything along Rock-a-Nore, and was all well cooked too. However, the flavours were very muted; everything was underseasoned. For example, our razor clams with garlic and herb butter didn’t taste of the potent bulb. The squid fritters pictured below were the best of the bunch with a tasty, light and crisp batter; the chillli jam on the side did suffer again from a lack of punch.

Squid Fritters with Chilli Jam

Luckily, desserts were very good; Blai had a dark chocolate and marshmallow mousse and I chose a pear and blackcurrant crumble.

Dark Chocolate and Marshmallow Mousse

Pear and Blackcurrant Crumble

Even after the improvement in the food, we couldn’t get over a feeling of not being wanted there. We had been greeted with a sneer when we entered the restaurant and service was generally missing throughout our meal. Ah well, we were on holiday and didn’t let it get to us and went back to our B&B with light hearts. And how could you not have that holiday feeling when you wake up to this view?

Low Tide

The next morning, we visited the ruins of Hastings Castle on the West Hill …

… before heading back again to Rock-a-Nore road (I love that road!) to a stand that we’d spied the day before.

Tush & Pat's

A Fishermen's Roll

This really made up for the disappointment we’d had over dinner the night before. For £2.50, you get two fillets of dab, dusted in flour and fried in olive oil, slapped into a bun. It’s simple and yet satisfying. We had one each for lunch and then split another one after a more extended walk through Hastings Country Park which we accessed via the East Hill Lift. (We came across lots of wild garlic!)

Going Down

After another stroll through the old town and then an ice cream on the beach, it was time to go home. I wasn’t going to leave empty handed though. Back to Rock-a-Nore Road (Hastings is very walkable!) to visit the Rock-a-Nore Fisheries; I’d heard that they do their own smoking on site. The hot smoked salmon immediately caught my eye and I bought a piece each of the regular, black pepper and hot chilli to take home.

Hot Smoked Salmon

We had a very simple supper when we got home: the salmon, bread and pickles. The salmon was gorgeous – all soft and moist inside – and so much better than any packaged hot smoked fish we’d ever bought at a supermarket. A great way to end our short holiday … but I’m missing all that fresh fish!

All our photos from Hastings can be found in this Flickr photoset.

Maggie’s
Rock-a-Nore Road,
Hastings, East Sussex
TN34 3DW

Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore
1 Rock-a-Nore Road
Hastings, East Sussex
TN34 3DW

Tush & Pat’s Fishermen’s Rolls
located at the base of the East Hill Lift.
Rock-a-Nore Road
Hastings, East Sussex

Rock-a-Nore Fisheries
Rock-a-Nore Road
Hastings, East Sussex

Happy New Year 2011, everybody!

We saw in the new year again at Blai’s parents’ place in Barcelona and I’ll eventually get to organising those photos; with my brother visiting the city too, I’ve been re-doing all the touristy sights (which are much more crowded than I remember) and hence taking more photos than usual. On his second day in the city, we visited La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous market, and as it happened to be lunchtime too, we lunched at Bar Central, one of the bars that looked quite good and where we could find space! This meal fulfilled a wish I’ve had which was to have a meal at one of the bars at La Boqueria.

Bar Central

Our server saw me whip out my camera and posed with a plate of someone else’s calamari and the planxa!

Don’t just depend on the menu that’s chalked up on the board; it’s much better to take a look at what looks good and what they recommend. We just went with what we felt like and what looked good on the counter and on other people’s plates. After staring at the big platter of Padrón peppers in front of us, we had to have some of our own. Our server very kindly gave us a few fried artichokes too for us to try. Unfortunately, the fried artichokes just weren’t as good as my mother-in-law’s. The pebrots de Padrón though were delicious. We didn’t find any hot ones that day.

Pebrots de Padrón

I spied a big paella of arròs negre too and soon a plateful of it sat in front of us. The black inky rice was full of clams and pieces of squid and was extremely moreish. A little bit of all i oli on the side wouldn’t have hurt though.

Arròs Negre

We definitely had to have some of the exquisitely fresh seafood everyone else was eating. We opted for the selection of fish and shellfish, all cooked on the planxa. This is what arrived!

Graellada de Peix i Marisc

Everything was ridiculously fresh and delicious; all the seafood was drizzled with a garlic and parsley oil. The razor clams were superbly tender, the monkfish wonderfully meaty and the salmon just could be the best cooked salmon I’ve ever had. All the fish and shellfish are also available by themselves.

All highly recommended. With a couple of drinks, the total came to €40 for the both of us; not cheap but it’s certainly very reasonable for the quality of the seafood we ate. To get a seat, you’re just going to have to stand patiently behind the other patrons, waiting for their seats to free up!

Bar Central
La Boqueria
Barcelona, Spain

A couple weekends ago, we were looking for a place to have lunch in Chiswick when I remembered a little seafood restaurant, Fish Hook, tucked away along a side street to Chiswick High Street. They’ve got a little sandwich board out on the main road to direct the attention of passersby as you’d normally never even bother looking down that street. I’d once gazed at their menu and a local wandered by and enthusiastically recommended the place. Now seemed like a good time to try it. They do a set lunch at £12.50 for two courses and £15 for three.

The restaurant is bright and airy but we made the mistake of choosing the table by the window that was under direct sunlight. Ah well. We started with some water for the table – but there was a slight hitch in the service when the waiter sneered somewhat when we turned down wine. Geez, get over it. Yeah, I know that’s probably your money maker but sheesh, we don’t have to order it every time we eat out.

There is a choice between three starters, three mains and a couple desserts. One each of the starters and mains are a non-fish dish but it seemed silly to order these when the name of the restaurant indicates its specialisation and we’re surrounded by pictures of fishies. My brother started with the Grilled Cornish line caught mackerel with cherry tomato salsa and couscous which he enjoyed….somewhat. He’s not a great fan of raw tomatoes and suffered a little while eating them. Hahaha! Otherwise, the fish was fresh though the portion size seemed a little small.

Mackerel salad

Blai and I fared better with the Whitebait tempura with a pea velouté and mixed leaf salad. The whitebait was fantastically light and crispy while the pea soup smooth and….well, it’s pea soup and it tasted like it!

Whitebait and Pea Soup

Both Blai and my brother had the Deep fried haddock with peas, broad beans, chips and tartare sauce for their main. This was some beautiful fish and chips! The fresh from the fryer battered fish sat on top of the lightly blanched peas and broad beans, keeping the fish from becoming soggy. The gorgeous chips and tartare sauce were both served on the side, the latter being a mix it yourself pile of mayo and toppings. I was very jealous of their choice!

Fish

The Chips

There was nothing wrong with my selection though. I opted for the Grilled sea bream with mashed potatoes, courgettes, green beans and crab bisque sauce as I didn’t want to follow a fried starter with a fried main course. The fish was grilled beautifully, with crispy skin, and the potatoes and vegetables were faultless.

Sea Bream

We were absolutely stuffed after this and didn’t try dessert. Though my brother’s starter seemed a little, when taking in the big picture (low price, fresh fish, well cooked, large main course), the whole meal was fantastic value. Only £12.50! For two courses! Service was a bit iffy (our sneering waiter continually bumped into our table… but the head chef himself served us a few of our dishes – he seemed like a nice guy!) but overall, it was a good experience. It’s nice to see a little independent in an area so full of chain restaurants.

Fish hook
6/8 Elliott Rd
Chiswick
London W4 1PE

Fish Hook on Urbanspoon

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