I only recently heard that the Barcelonan chain Mas Q Menos had opened in London but it wasn’t until they opened their second restaurant on Wardour Street (the first is in Holborn) that I finally made my way there. On first impressions, the place is very promising. There’s an open, welcoming space and the ingredients were all on display in the front and all clearly were of high quality.

It took an absolute age for anything to happen while we were there though. Despite it being quite empty (there were only three tables full that afternoon), orders took forever, drinks arrived at a snail’s pace, even waiters moved in slow motion.

The first dish to (finally) come out was a toasted sandwich with Mallorcan cured sausage (sobrasada de Mallorca), brie cheese, and honey. Ah, one of my favourite combinations! It was a good thing this sandwich was excellent as I was on the verge of losing my patience with the place. This sandwich was generously filled with all my favourite things and perfectly toasted.

Sobrassada, Cheese and Honey Sandwich

One of the well-known offerings in the restaurant is their toasted coca flatbreads, a Catalan flatbread here topped with various ingredients. We had one with small sardines, seasonal tomatoes, rocket salad, piquillo peppers and spring onions. The sardines were clearly from a tin and of very high quality and were delicious. Excellent.

Little Sardines, Piquillo Peppers, Rocket, Tomato, Onion on Coca Bread

A slice of Spanish omelette (tortilla de patatas) wasn’t exactly a dud but it was a bit dull. But fine, it was fine, we ate it.

Tortilla with Tomato Bread

The food, in general, then is very good. Service, however, if you couldn’t guess, was extremely slow and I hope it’s improved since we visited. It’s the perfect place for a light lunch or an after work drink with snacks though and I’m glad it’s so much easier to get good Catalan/Spanish snacks here in London!

Mas Q Menos
68-70 Wardour Street
London W1F 0TB

Mas Q Menos on Urbanspoon

Westfield London is quite dangerously on my way home from work each day and once in a while, Blai and I meet there for dinner at the Byron there. We’d tried other places there but they were all mostly grim and so burgers were the only thing we ate at Westfield. We had spotted Tapas Revolution right smack dab in the middle of the mall but didn’t have much confidence in a mall tapas bar. It took an invitation to have dinner there one night (a blogger event) for us to finally try it.

Tapas Revolution is owned by Spanish-born and El Bulli trained Omar Allibhoy. He first worked at a number of restaurants upon his arrival to London before launching El Pirata de Tapas (he is still executive chef there). In 2010, he opened his own place – and that place was Tapas Revolution. During our meal, he took the time to inform us about the tapas we were eating as well as answer our questions about his time with the Adria brothers. He is extremely friendly and welcoming and clearly very hard working as he dealt with us while ensuring that all his other customers were also taken care of.

Omar Allibhoy

How thrilled I was to see horchata on the menu! And yes, while everyone was sipping on cava and sangria, I happily stuck to my non-alcoholic horchata. I’m always glad to see interesting non-alcoholic choices on menus.

Horchata

Our tapas dinner was going to feature items off their soon-to-be-launched summer menu and started off with one of my favourite things ever: Jamon Iberico de bellota de Guijuelo.

Jamon Iberico de Bellota de Guijuelo

Pan Con Tomate (the Catalan pa amb tomàquet) was delicious with excellent olive oil drizzled on top. I draped my ham on top and… sigh….I’m drooling as I type this.

Pa amb Tomàquet

Gazpacho de sandia was a unique spin on the traditional cold soup, here with the addition of watermelon.

Gazpacho de Sandia

Boquerones (anchovies) were fat and fleshy and fantastic.

Boquerones

Croquetas de gambas, vieira y tinta de calamar (prawns, scallop and squid ink) were the most unique croquetas we’d come across and I loved their striking black interiors. Delicious too.

Croquetas de Gambas, Vieira y Tinta de Calamar

Inside the Squid Ink Croqueta

Calamares Fritos (fried calamari) were freshly fried and I loved that they included the tentacles (so many places just serve the rings).

Calamares Fritos

Pulpo a la Gallega is a traditional Galician preparation of boiled octopus and potatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and the version here was excellent.

Pulpo a la Gallega

Croquetas de Jamon were another, more traditional, version of their croqueta and equally as good. It’s always good to see a well made classic.

Croquetas de Jamon

I was surprised that we were served Fideuà, the Valencian noodle classic that’s cooked similarly to paella. It’s just not a common dish in tapas bars here (well, at least I’ve not seen it) and it was quite good here with plenty of seafood scattered through the noodles.

Fideuà

Espárragos con romesco were nicely grilled asparagus but unfortunately the Catalan romesco sauce was too vinegary and not nutty enough – the traditional preparation has a great balance of nuts, roasted chillies and tomatoes. This I think was the only dud of the evening.

Espárragos con Romesco

Pinchos Morunos con mojo picón were grilled beef skewers served with a spicy sauce from the Canary Islands. Well, I say spicy but it’s mild for us and perhaps it is spicy for Spanish standards! These were great and were possibly the most popular tapas that night (not for me…you can’t take my heart away from jamon and croquetas!).

Pinchos Morunos con Mojo Picón

Of course, what else were we going to have for dessert but Churros con chocolate! We dunked these cinnamon dusted fritters into a milky hot chocolate and after those were gone, I drank that chocolate straight up.

Churros con Chocolate

Overall, an excellent and very fun meal. The prices are in line with other tapas places in London – each dish costs between £2 and £7. The location of the tapas bar does make things a bit noisy and a bit draughty but hey, it’s in a mall and allowances must be made.

How wrong it turned out we had been about this place! It turns out that mall tapas can indeed be very good (this almost reminds me of the fantastic eateries in Asian malls). Thank you very much to Omar and Emma from Neil Reading PR for the invitation!

There’s also a second Tapas Revolution at Bluewater.

Tapas Revolution
The Balcony
Westfield London
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 7SL

Tapas Revolution on Urbanspoon

Last weekend, I headed down to South Bank to the Streets of Spain festival to try a free Spanish breakfast masterclass courtesy of the Spanish wine brand Campo Viejo. The Spanish wine company was sponsoring the event and holding a number of free masterclasses on both food and wine that long weekend. They had even brought over a number of stalls from the brilliant La Boqueria market of Barcelona and there was even a pop-up tapas restaurant.

At the masterclass venue, we were welcomed by Òscar Ubide i Marcet, the general manager of La Boqueria, who explained what happened at various hours of the market. And how the working hours for many at the market started early and ended with a breakfast – a breakfast that we’d experience at this masterclass.

Oscar, Manager of la Boqueria

Each place had been set with a glass of Campo Viejo cava…apparently the tipple of choice for market traders having breakfast!

Cava for Breakfast

Soon, a plateful of scrambled eggs cooked with mushrooms was set down before us and we helped ourselves to the roving bread platter to mop everything up. The only downside was the amount of salt in the dish; it was just a bit too salty though the eggs and mushrooms were cooked to perfection otherwise.

Mushrooms and Eggs

To my surprise, the chef responsible for our breakfast turned out to be El Quim de la Boqueria, of the stall of the same name – I’ve been wanting to taste his food for some time but never managed to make it there. But next time I’m in Barcelona, I’ll try to get there again! Anyway, that morning he explained how he made the dish with its five different types of mushrooms and a sweet wine reduction (yup, made with a Campo Viejo wine).

El Quim de la treeBoqueria

It was quite a treat to walk out again and encounter stalls from La Boqueria and we may have ended up spending quite a bit on Catalan pork products (my latest thing is the secallona, a dry thin cured pork sausage)! It was a great way to top up our Catalan supplies.

Stalls

Cheese Stall

Thank you very much to Victoria at Weber Shandwick and to Campo Viejo for the invitation! Please do bring La Boqueria back to London again!

We were in Madrid two weekends ago for just a short time, from Saturday night to Monday night. How gorgeous is Barajas Airport? It’s possibly my favourite building in the city.

Barajas

OK, I did say we were there for 48 hours. The first 24 hours were spent on Blai’s work, which was why we were in Madrid in the first place. Now let’s ignore the fact that for the first 24 hours, we only ate Italian food. You know how it is when eating with others! Luckily there were a few good pizzas consumed but I’m not here to write about pizzas in Madrid!

The next 24 hours though were fantastic! We took the metro from our hotel to the Puerta del Sol and then started wandering. It was Sunday night and all the locals were out, making the most of the weekend.

Puerta del Sol

We made our way first to the Chocolatería San Ginés, in operation since 1894. We couldn’t leave Madrid without having chocolate.

Chocolatería San Ginés

While I held down our table outside, Blai went in to order our churros y chocolate (about €3,60 for both). The receipt is handed to our waiter and he zooms there and back with our plates. The chocolate seemed less dark than the types I’d encountered in Barcelona but I loved the look of their long churros though Blai did miss the Barcelonan ones with their showering of sugar. I was still very happy with my fried dough.

Churros y Chocolate

Chocolatería San Ginés
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 11
Madrid, Spain‎

Continuing on with our stroll, we happened upon Calle Cava Baja – the name of a street that a Madrileño I worked with recommended we check out on Sunday night. It’s close to the metro station Latina, where there are many tapas places, all filled with people in total denial that the next day was a working day.

We fell into one that looked busy but where we could still grab seats by the bar. This place turned out to be the Taberna los Huevos de Lucio, offshoot of the more famous restaurant Casa Lucio, located just across the street. I recognised the name from a list of recommendations from another Madrileño on Twitter and knew we had to order their eggs. Everyone in the place was ordering the eggs.

The eggs are their huevos estrellados or ‘broken eggs’. This was a few fried eggs broken on top of a base of chips, coating them in their glorious yolks. It seems like such a simple idea but the eggs were of fantastic quality and they were fried in a way I can never achieve at home. They were delicious!

Huevos Estrellados

We also tucked into an order of their croquetas, all crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They too were excellent though a bit heavy on which to end the night!

Croquetas

After a couple of hours at the bar (total bill of about €23 for tapas and a couple drinks), we could barely keep our eyes open (it had been a very long day) and headed back to our hotel. People of Madrid, I salute your ability to party on a Sunday night.

Taberna los Huevos de Lucio
Cava Baja, 30
Madrid, Spain

The next day, after a big hotel breakfast, we spent the morning at the Museo Reina Sofia, which was just the right size for a couple hours. This sculpture (Wheat and Steak by Antoni Miralda) will be pleasing to carnivores.

Wheat and Steak

Afterwards, we walked across the centre of the city to the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Botin, established in 1725. It’s look exactly as you’d expect the oldest restaurant in the world to look – all dark wood and cramped insides. For the oldest restaurant in the world, however, it was easy to get a table for lunch on a Monday as walk-ins, service was very professional, and the food was very good!

To start, we shared an Ensalada Botin, a great big pile of lettuce, jamon, chicken, tomato, potato, asparagus, artichoke, beetroot and egg in a light vinaigrette that absolutely hit the spot. Sometimes you just need your vegetables.

Ensalada Botin

For mains, we had an excellent Cochinillo Asado, about a sixth of a roast suckling pig (a speciality from Segovia) complete with crispy tail! Crispy skin, tender meat…it’s all you want from a roast piglet.

Cochinillo Asado

Our other main course of Revuelto de la Casa were scrambled eggs with morcilla (black sausage) and potato. This sure beat the horrendously dry revueltos mixed with half-raw ingredients served at our hotel at breakfast.

Revuelto de la Casa

We split a homemade Tarta de Queso con Chocolate Blanco (cheesecake with white chocolate) for dessert. It was incredibly light and went down all too easily.

Tarta de Queso con Chocolate Blanco

Total lunch bill (it was a big lunch) for food and a bottle of water was about €60.

Restaurante Botin
Calle de los Cuchilleros, 17
Madrid, Spain

We continued walking around the oldest parts of the city until our time in Madrid was almost up. Our last stop before we headed for the airport was at the oldest square in the city – Plaza de la Villa. It’s got lots of personality, this square, and I felt it was quite neglected by most of the tourists. This is the Casa de la Villa…

Casa de la Villa

…and this is the Torre de los Lujanes. See that tiny alley on the left of the tower? You want that alley.

Torre de los Lujanes

If you go down that alley, you’ll end up at a square with a church. On the right hand side, you’ll come across this door (I really do have to thank the gypsy woman outside the church who helped us find it!). This is the door to the Convento de las Carboneras, a closed order of nuns. From 09:30 to 13:00 and 16:30 to 18:30 every day except Sunday, you can buy sweets and biscuits baked by the nuns. Press the buzzer during this time and wait for a reply – this might take a while as the nun who deals with the public is elderly and has to go down a few flights of stairs.

The Door

She’ll buzz you in and you follow the signs until you reach a dark corner where there’s a wooden grille through which you complete your transaction with the nun on the other side. Put your money in the grille, the nun will spin it around and collect it and give you your change and your order. There’s a menu of biscuits that they make but that day, the nun told us (all in Spanish) that they had only baked one type of biscuit and we gladly accepted that.

Your reward will be biscuits like these! £9 for 500g of Mantecados de Jerez, lardy biscuits with dry sherry. They were crumbly and excellent with their heavy coating of powdered sugar and their fine scent of lemon oil.

Biscuits

Inside

A fine end to our trip to Madrid!

Convento de las Carboneras
Plaza Conde de Miranda 3,
Madrid, Spain

All my photos from this short trip can be found in this Flickr photoset.

My father’s one food wish in London was to go for another tapas meal – the last time he was here, I took him to Barrafina but this time, wanting to try something a bit different, I turned to the Cambio de Tercio group. Of their four restaurants, I chose Tendido Cero as their menu online had a good balance of both modern and classic tapas dishes and made a booking for dinner. When booking, you choose a block of about 2 hours and they’re pretty strict with it, which can make it difficult to relax. Glad to see my father relaxing though with his sangría!

Not knowing how large the dishes were, we started with a few and then just kept going with the ordering. Boquerones en Vinagre (baby anchovies in sherry vinegar) (£6.50) were brought to us first and the fresh marinated anchovies were delicious. A bread basket also arrived at our table and was filled with diminutive warm bread rolls that we happily ate up.

Boquerones en Vinagre

Bread Basket Cute Bread

The Morcilla de Burgos con Tomate (Crispy Burgos black sausage, tomato sauce) (£5.50) that came next didn’t look like much but was absolutely fantastic. The rich morcilla was crisp on the outside, meaty on the inside, and the fresh tomato sauce partnered it well.

Morcilla de Burgos con Tomate

Their “Las Nuevas” Patatas Bravas (“The new” spicy patatas bravas) (£7.25) was one of my favourite that night. The potatoes had been carved into little cups that had been fried and then filled with the bravas sauce and mayonnaise. I would have preferred aioli but it was still brilliant without it.

"Las Nuevas" Patatas Bravas

Calamares a la Andaluz (Deep fried squid “a la Andaluz”) (£8.50) were served in strips rather than the usual rings. It was a slight change but even that seemed to make it particularly novel. Of the frying, it was textbook perfect.

Calamares a la Andaluz

Cordero Guisado con Almendra (Lamb casserole, roasted almonds and white wine) (£6.75) required another basket of bread to mop up all the delicious gravy.

Cordero Guisado con Almendra

My father loved the Chorizo a la Sidra (Spicy chorizo cooked in Spanish cider) (£5.75), which was indeed very good. Heck, I love chorizo in just about anything.

Chorizo a la Sidra

Carrilleras Ibericas, PX, Crema de Patata (Iberian pork cheeks cooked in px wine, potato cream) (£10.75) was also excellent but the small portion size and relatively high price tag still makes me question the value of this dish. Could I tell that these were Iberian pork cheeks as opposed to regular supermarket pork cheeks? Nope.

Carrilleras Ibericas, PX, Crema de Patata

While their new style tapas were very good, they could not get some of the basics right. The Croquetas de Jamon (Serrano ham croquettes) (£6.75) were fried beautifully but were oversalted.

Croquetas de Jamon

The Catalan classic of Pan con Tomate y Jamon (toasted bread, fresh tomato and olive oil, with Iberian ham) (£5.75) was terrible with its pureed tasteless tomato and no hint of olive oil flavour – I found myself just picking off the excellent ham and just eating that.

Pan con Tomate y Jamon

The Tortilla de Patata (Spanish omelette) (£6.00) was the worst offender, being flavourless, undersalted and bizarrely fluffy. This could very well be the worst tortilla in the history of tortillas. We didn’t even finish it.

Tortilla de Patata

We were all pretty full at this point but as usual, Blai and I had to split some Chocolate con Churros (£5.50). Luckily, these classic fried treats were spot on, as was the chocolate.

Chocolate con Churros

Overall, the meal was a success as my father was happy. For me, I’m more likely to try one of the other restaurants in the chain – perhaps one that only focuses on their more modern tapas. For the price, I would expect all the tapas at Tendido Cero to be made well and a few dishes did clearly disappoint. If you pick well though, you could have a great meal.

Tendido Cero
174 Old Brompton Road
London SW5 0BA

Tendido Cero on Urbanspoon

I’ve still got Barcelona on the mind! I keep meaning to get to Bar Pinotxo at La Boqueria to try their famous chickpea dishes (usually with morcilla, a Spanish black sausage, and raisins or apple) but I’ve never been able to wake myself up early enough (I’m under the impression that it’s less crowded early in the morning). We had some leftover chickpeas one night and the thought sprung to my mind to create a similar dish at home.

Chickpeas with Sausage, Raisins and Pine Nuts

This recipe is based on this video I found which shows one of the cooks at Bar Pinotxo preparing the dish. I’ve had to tweak it somewhat to use ingredients that I can easily get here and of course, I have no idea how mine compares to the real thing. One thing I do know – it’s mighty tasty with the creamy chickpeas and savoury pork mingling with the sweet raisins and nutty pine nuts and a bowlful makes a fine supper with a small hunk of bread alongside.

Chickpeas with Sausage, Raisins and Pine Nuts
serves 2-3.

2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pork sausages
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pinenuts
1 tsp dried oregano
a pinch of dried thyme
1-2 tbsps chopped flat leaf parsley
500g cooked chickpeas
salt
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and pour in the oil when hot. Add the onions and cook them slowly until golden, about 10 minutes.

Peel the sausages and add the filling to the pan. Add the raisins, pine nuts, oregano and thyme in too. Fry, stirring and mashing the meat constantly – you want the meat to crumble to little bits. When the meat has cooked through, add the parsley and stir through. If it’s starting to look a bit too dry, you can toss in a bit of water at this time (a bit only!).

Add the chickpeas and stir to combine well. Let cook for another 5 or so minutes, stirring often. The chickpeas are precooked so you just want to heat them up here. When hot, take the pan off the heat, season with salt and pour in the balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Stir through well and serve.

Fresh Chickpeas

On a somewhat related note, I purchased these fresh chickpeas at a shop on Ealing Road near Wembley this past weekend. I wasn’t too sure how to prepare them so I boiled them for a few minutes, as I would edamame. Unlike edamame though, there are only one or two chickpeas per pod.

Fresh Chickpea

The pods collected lots of water and with a gentle squeeze, they’d shoot out jets of hot water. Sure it was a bit dangerous but we were rewarded with tender green chickpeas that made for a nice pre-dinner nibble.

Blai went to Barcelona a week earlier than I did and I had to spend that entire week hearing about how fabulous fartons were and how well they went with orxata and how I absolutely had to try them. (Go ahead and giggle at the name like a five year old – we did!)

As I was still in London, yes, it was a very frustrating week.

I made to Barcelona eventually where I got to fill up on these treats. We drank orxata out of wine glasses – ha! Actually, we didn’t want to dirty more glasses and so reused those from lunch.

Orxata in Wine Glasses

We’ll start first with the orxata (that’s in Catalan. Horchata in Spanish). This milky looking drink originated in Valencia (mostly associated with the town of Alboraia) and is made from xufes (in Catalan but also spelled xufles, or chufas in Castilian), or tiger nuts, a little tuber about the size of a large chickpea. It’s a drink said to date back to the Moorish presence in Valencia (8th to 13th centuries). It’s sweetened and creamy yet refreshing and slightly grainy and if you want a drink to compare it to, I’ll say it’s not far off from soy bean milk. Mexican horchata is another beast altogether – that’s made from rice and cinnamon. It’s a very refreshing drink and can be bought all over Barcelona in the summer (along with granissats – icy slushy drinks not unlike Slurpees).

Orxata

This is where Blai’s family purchase their orxata – Sirvent in Gràcia. You can drink it there or buy a bottle home. When you do the latter, the bottle is filled on the spot for you, by hand, using a ladle. This was the 2 litre bottle we bought.

2 Litres of Orxata

This year, Sirvent started selling fartons, which were invented in Alboraia. A fartó is a long pastry that was designed to be dipped into orxata and originated in the Polo bakery 50 years ago. They’ve got a good chew and a spongy texture and it’s the combination of the two that allows it to soak up copious amounts of orxata without breaking. There’s a thin sugar glaze on the surface.

Fartons Polo

When you eat them all orxata soaked, they’re deceptively light. You bite and squish and bite and swallow and bite and slurp and chew and all the while exclaiming how light they are! and the next thing you know you’ve consumed two of the great big things and your tummy is starting to ache with all the food sloshing around in there (mainly because we had this after a big meal already). Whatever. They are delicious.

Dipping the Fartó

In the summer, Sirvent also sells a wide range of homemade ice creams (Blai recommends the very Catalan flavours of llet merengada and turró). In the winter, they sell turró (and that’ll be a whole other post come December!).

Sirvent
c/ Escorial 100
08024 Barcelona
Spain

By the by, does anyone know of a place that sells fresh orxata in London?

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