I was back in Bordeaux early last month, this time with Blai as we were there for his work. There wasn’t much sightseeing as we both saw the city without each other but instead lots of general strolling and, of course, eating. Friends and family came along too and we were often a small group, always a challenge for me as the restaurant responsibility tends to fall on me! Luckily, Bordeaux has numerous fantastic restaurants and we visited quite a few of them. For a group of 4 or more, I would definitely recommend booking, even if it’s an hour ahead; we were turned away from a couple spots when we hadn’t made reservations.

There was an outstanding first meal on our first night at the Corsican Le Petit Mignon with pumpkin soup with a crusted soft boiled egg…

Pumpkin Soup with a Crusted Egg

…and my favourite salade de gesiers (confited duck gizzards).

Salade de Gesiers

Then a fabulous faux filet with a Corsican wine sauce …

Steak and Corsican Wine Sauce

…followed by their chocolate cake (more like a ridiculous rich chocolate torte)…

Chocolate Cake

and a bavarois de poire.

Bavarois de Poire

We liked it so much we returned another day for lunch. There’s a good value lunch menu with dishes like this tender grilled cuttlefish with vegetables.

Grilled Cuttlefish and Vegetables

Le Petit Mignon
33 Rue Saint-Rémi
33000 Bordeaux, France

For more classic Bordelais dishes, we went to La Table Bordelais, a very friendly spot with a set lunch that’s available all week. There was another salade de gesiers

Salade de Gesiers

…and another steak, but this time with a sauce bordelaise.

Steak Bordelais

And a confit de canard! Oh yes, and those potatoes – fabulous.

Confit de Canard

Blai and I shared this simple tarte aux poires but another dessert option was coffee with that classic Bordeaux pastry – the canelé!

Tarte aux Poires

La Table Bordelais
10 Rue Piliers de Tutelle
33000 Bordeaux, France

There was one evening where we came out of a concert and it was absolutely pouring down. Hungry and wet, we stepped next door to Le Régent, an old style brasserie on Place Gambetta. Many of us were coming in like drowned rats and somehow there was room for all. Portions were big here!

We shared half a roast chicken…

Roast Chicken

… and a brandade de cabillaud (made with fresh cod and not dried salted cod). The food was simple but it was all well prepared and hit the spot. They do pizzas too and those appeared to be very popular with locals.

Brandade de Cabillaud

Le Régent
46 Place Gambetta
33000 Bordeaux, France

There was another visit to Le Scopitone where we all opted for the excellent value prix fixe. There was a lamb spring roll to start…

Lamb Spring Roll

… as well as an excellent cream of turnip soup (I’m growing turnips for the first time this year and I hope to recreate this!).

Cream of Turnips

There was a fish fillet (I can’t remember the type of fish but I recall it’s one not familiar to these shores) cooked very simply but beautifully with tomatoes and capers.

Fish

There was an emincé de boeuf as well, with a sauce bordelaise, and it’s where I realised that no, emincé isn’t a mince but thin slices of meat. In this case, these were thin slices of a very rare piece of beef that would be boot leather if cooked any other way!

Emincé de Steak

Desserts were simple but excellent: tarte tatin

Tarte Tatin

… and an outstanding mango cheesecake.

Mango Cheesecake

Le Scopitone
5 Rue de la Vieille Tour
33000 Bordeaux, France

For me, one particular highlight was a lunch at Le Cagette, a beautifully light and airy restaurant. They too had a set lunch with plenty of choices. Watercress soup to start (this was an eye opener for me as I’m only familiar with Chinese pork and watercress soup)…

Watercress Soup

or a beetroot and orange salad (yeah, this wasn’t mine…I’m still not a fan of beetroot).

Beetroot Salad

For mains, a mushroom risotto…

Mushroom Risotto

… or my favourite, an excellent slice of meatloaf with the most impossibly airy mashed potatoes.

Meatloaf

Tarte tatin here too! Not sure if you can tell but dessert portions were ridiculously generous.

Tarte Tatin

La Cagette
8 Place du Palais
33000 Bordeaux, France

One more, one more! I became a temporary regular at the Patisserie Artisanale Gaston Bordeaux, which I can highly recommend. Their viennoiserie is outstanding: all the usuals plus combinations like pistachio and raspberry or vanilla and apple. I tried many of them but my favourite is always the croissant. I never got to try their pastries (as they were laid out after breakfast time) but they looked fantastic too.

I'm going to miss this.

Patisserie Artisanale Gaston Bordeaux
34 Rue du Dr Charles Nancel Penard
33000 Bordeaux, France

We fell in love with Bordeaux and I sure wouldn’t mind returning again!

Taiwanese food! I love it and I loved what we tried at Ho-ja on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. I was first introduced to the restaurant by a friend who organised a karaoke night in one of their two private rooms downstairs. While the karaoke was ok (language variety good, song variety in English meh), the food was memorable. I returned last week with Blai.

The location was one I remembered as being an old-fashioned British diner in times past – I recall having Spam fritters for the first time there! The business has turned over a couple times since then and is now Ho-ja. The space is large and is peppered with wooden benches and tables – we’re shown to the end of a large communal one as the smaller tables are all taken. We have menus but one needs to order and pay at the counter and the food is brought out to you when it’s ready.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

Our spread looks good, no? First up was a pork katsu bento – it’s not really in a bento box but is akin to the set meals that are typically Taiwanese. For something like £6, we got a slightly greasy fried breaded pork cutlet, some stewed cabbage, beansprouts, and rice. Portions are certainly hearty.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

A side order of their chicken popcorn is surprisingly greaseless by comparison. It’s extremely addictive and it would be worth ordering this as a bento main.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

The Ho-ja beef roll also comes with vegetables (steamed broccoli here) and are flaky scallion pancakes rolled around lots of salad leaves and some stewed beef. Fabulous stuff! We loved the freshness of the greens with the richer bread and beef. Just watch out for the skewers holding the rolls together… it’s easy to accidentally give yourself an unwanted piercing.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

With a bubble tea and a regular jasmine tea, the bill came to about £22, a pretty good deal. It’s definitely a place to look out for if you’re in search of a bite in the area.

Ho Ja
39 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 8QQ

Things have been busy and I’ve not been particularly keen to open my laptop to write posts once I’m back home. But I thought I’d give myself a kick today and post a recipe I made last night. Nikujaga!

That’s Japanese for ‘meat and potatoes’ and it’s a very common, very simple dish that’s served with rice. Due to its sweetness, it’s particularly popular with kids … and we like it too! Everyone seems to have their own ratio of soy/sake/mirin/sugar and I saw sugar amounts that ranged from 1 tbsp to 4 tbsp for the same amount of meat and potatoes. I went with my gut and the ratio below is what worked for us.

For the thinly sliced beef, to get it fresh, you’re likely to need to visit a Japanese or Korean shop that sells fresh meat. I find a good source of thinly sliced meat is also the frozen section of Chinese shops as the thin slices of meat are frozen in rolls, ready to go into hotpot. I cut them in half and in they go into my pot directly. Easy.

Nikujaga (with a red spoon)

Nikujaga
Serves 2-4 (depends if you have other dishes)

1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
200-250g thinly sliced beef (I use frozen like you use for Asian hotpot)
1-2 large potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small carrot, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise
500 ml water
3 tbsps soy sauce
3 tbsps sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp demerara sugar
1 scant tsp instant dashi
A handful of frozen peas

Heat a medium sized pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Add the onion slices and saute until just started to get translucent. Add the beef and continue sauteing until the beef loses all its red colour. Add the potatoes, carrot, water and seasonings, stir well and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, partly cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Scatter over the frozen peas and continue cooking for another five minutes before turning off the heat.

Go ahead and leave the dish to soak up the flavourful liquid until mealtime (it’s now a good time to make anything else you’re having for your meal!). Serve with hot white rice.

(Konnyaku noodles are apparently great in here too and if you don’t have peas, green beans work too.)

There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gràcia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somodó and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly recited the choices for that day’s menú del dia to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mató was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mató Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s €20 for the menú del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somodó
Ros de Olano, 11
Gràcia
Barcelona 08012

We spent Christmas and New Year in Barcelona and the days were heavily punctuated by some fantastic eating, as you can expect. Christmas was feasting with family out in the village. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day here in the UK) was more feasting at home. New Year’s Eve was snacking on canapes as we waited to shove grapes in our mouth with each strike of the clock at midnight. On New Year’s Day, even more feasting. Ah, that was the good life.

One thing that always strikes me about Barcelona is the way that chocolate is used with reckless abandon at all patisseries. Croissants, coques, palmiers,etc, come in both plain and chocolate-covered varieties. The chocolate coating is not a mere afterthought but a proper drenching – a thick coating! – that turns the pastry into a hefty, weighty treat. And these can be found at all patisseries! There were a couple of more unique chocolate treats that stood out during my visit though.

We went back to my beloved Forn Mistral to try a wide variety of their pastries. I particularly wanted to try their mini chocolate croissants and I wasn’t disappointed. They don’t look very promising from the outside but under that surprisingly thin layer of puff pastry is an equally surprising hefty lump of chocolate. There is a proper 50/50 ratio of pastry to chocolate in these little morsels. And if you pick some up for takeaway, there’s a chance you could get a scoop straight from the oven….mmm…. little chocolate lava morsels.

I'm a little obsessed with the mini chocolate croissants from @fornmistral ... Here's a cross section of one. Look at all that chocolate! And the portion we bought yesterday was hot out of the oven! 🍫

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume MontserratThe bakery is famous for their coques, Catalan flatbreads that are topped or filled with sweet or savoury ingredients. I noticed that there were many comments online about their coca de xocolata – pictured below – and we bought a large slice to take home. While the chocolate in the mini croissants above was pure dark chocolate, the one here was like a stiffer dark chocolate frosting, probably to hold up to a longer baking time. It was sweeter but I still liked it. I loved it. More please!

Slices of a coca de xocolata from Forn Jaume Montserrat ... Another example of the major chocolate representation at bakeries and patisseries here!

I guess it’s another way of mainlining chocolate that isn’t in liquid form!

First post of the year! Happy new year, everyone! I’ll start the year with a great restaurant that’s local to us, one that’s a short bus ride away from me (though likely more of a train journey for most people in London).

I know that there are a million and one burger restaurants and many of them are of a few particular chains. This restaurant, Dexter Burger, is an independent and has some seriously good burgers. Their prices may seem steeper than other burger joints (£9 for a hamburger) but a side of their excellent rosemary and sea salt fries are included. Bearnaise and rocket leaves are default, tomato and onion and jalapenos are free, and other toppings (like cheese) are a small supplement. For a supplement, the fries can also be upgraded. On our first visit there, we both got cheeseburgers (+£1) but I upgraded my fries to sweet potato fries too (+£1).

I really like their burger – it’s incredibly juicy and meaty and they mix a tiny bit of minced onion into the patty as well. The bun is excellent, holding its structure in the face of all those meat juices. Sweet potato fries are, of course, amazing.

Back in London, having a burger. It's good to be home! Also, Dexter Burger is our latest discovery and we love it.

Do ask for their homemade sweet chilli sauce (photo above, top right) – it’s wonderful and very addictive.

On a more recent visit, we tried their courgette fries (£3.50) as well and they’re just as good as I expected them to be.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I pushed the boat out and upgraded my fries to chilli rub fries (+£1.20). I had no idea what to expect but was delighted when presented with my pile of fries topped with a chilli sprinkle (the rub, I gather), a chilli mayo, and lots of pickled jalapenos.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

The dessert list is short (two items) but the one dessert we have tried (their banoffee pie) was fantastic with lots of cream and toffee sauce.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I love them and am very happy to find a local independent burger place that’s excellent. Watch out for their opening times as they close earlier on Sunday evenings. They have a separate weekend brunch menu as well that’s enticing – baked eggs, pancakes, pork burger?! I’ll be seeing you again, Dexter Burger.

Dexter Burger
10 High Street
Purley CR8 2AA

I was up in Manchester at the beginning of this month for work. There were two nights, a presentation, and walks here and there throughout the city as I made my way from the conference venue to my Travelodge room. Here were the highlights for me.

There was lunch the Thai supermarket Siam Smiles (48A George Street, Manchester M1 4HF), where I had a large plate of khao kha moo (the sweet and salty stewed pork knuckle with rice) for £9.50. There was hot and sweet Thai milk tea too.

Hello, Manchester! My khao kha moo at Siam Smiles (I read the @marinagpoloughlin article on the place!).

A visit to the John Rylands Library was a necessity as I have a passion for libraries and I was not disappointed!

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The Victorian building was utterly gorgeous and I only wished I’d had more time in there. If you do stop by, make time to have a peek at the working original loos in the basement!

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The Christmas markets woven through the city streets were exceptionally charming, lending a festive air to the quiet city. There were plenty of stalls from the European continent as well as more local treats. I wished I had more space to sample the boreks I saw at one stall.

I'm loving Manchester's Christmas markets!

The Mancunian specialty I wanted to try was rice and three and I chose to have it at Kabana (52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP). For £6, I could choose from the curries of the day; my choices were lamb, keema and potatoes, and channa. The food isn’t highly spiced but is very comforting with lots of fresh ginger and coriander. You won’t leave hungry!

Rice and three at Kabana

From a tip from a kind man at the John Rylands, I made my way to Chetham’s Library for a free tour just prior to catching my train back to London. This library is the oldest public reference library in the English speaking world and is part of Chetham’s School (specialising in music). The library dates from the 17th century but is housed in a building dating from the 15th century.

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There was first a glimpse at the freezing cold but impressive medieval hall with its humongous fireplace.

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The library itself is upstairs and looks like something out of a certain fictional wizarding school. It’s such an important bit of history and I’m so glad to have seen it.

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And that’s the very short report of how Manchester fed me and charmed me this festive season!