Food and Drink


It’s been a while since I blogged and that’s just due to real life getting in the way! I’ve already been to Vancouver twice this year and haven’t blogged a bit about those trips. I’ll start with a highlight of my first trip back in May. My father and I went to visit Mak N Ming, a tiny fixed menu restaurant in Kitsilano – it’s relatively new and just recently was awarded as one of Canada’s best new restaurants in 2017 by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine (Légende in Quebec made that list a few years ago). The Mak and Ming in the name are the chef couple of impressive pedigrees who’ve launched the tiny restaurant.

The restaurant is indeed tiny – perhaps only seating about 20 or so and hence booking is absolutely essential. There are only two menus – a four-course demi menu and a longer seven-course chef’s menu. As this was my last dinner before flying out of Vancouver on that first trip, we went all out for the chef’s menu ($78 per head). What’s nice is that the entire table isn’t forced into one or the other; they allow for mixing of menus.

A first bite of caviar on rye was a very promising start.

first bite

Next up was raw lamb, salsify, parmesan, shirasu and was essentially lamb tartare and much milder in flavour than I expected. The parmesan featured in a huge crunchy cracker on top.

raw lamb, salsify, parmesan, shirasu

I enjoyed the buckwheat, fried egg, greens which turned out to be similar to a crepe – though perhaps this was the least creative of the dishes that night. Still very good though.

buckwheat, fried egg, greens

The very minimalistic lobster, potato was butter poached lobster with a gorgeous potato puree and also shavings of potato with a seaweed coating, I think.

lobster, potato

One of my favourites was the split pea, lobster ‘gravy’, seeds which turned out to be layers of split pea soup and a very thick lobster bisque.

split pea, lobster 'gravy', seeds

The first dessert – rhubarb tartlet, brunost – was a truly inspired combination. A very short and crumbly buttery pastry with a sweet-tart rhubarb filling was offset nicely by its toupee of rich and creamy Norwegian brown cheese.

rhubarb tartlet, brunost

The second dessert was a sake kasu parfait, rose jelly, pistachio, meringue, sweet pea – and I never knew you could eat sweet peas in small quantities (I do believe they’re toxic in larger amounts). Not too sweet and lovely and light yet creamy, this was very accomplished.

sake kasu parfait, rose jelly, pistachio, meringue, sweet pea

I ordered tea for afters and it came with a plate of excellent house-made sweets for the table.

Sweets

And my tea? Well, it came with a timer which gave us a bit of interactive fun.

Tea with Timer

Perhaps my only quibble with the restaurant is that the menus only seem to change once every season – if I still lived in Vancouver and had the funds, I’d want more of an excuse to visit more often! Oh, and that I missed their Sunday brunches offered only in the summer – boo. It’s definitely worth the visit!

Mak N Ming
1629 Yew Street
Vancouver, BC
V6K 3E6
Canada

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I can’t honestly write up a proper recipe for this. I took inspiration from a pasta dish from a local Italian restaurant and ran with it, using up bits and bobs from the fridge. Blai took my vague instructions/ideas and turned it into a wonderful dinner a couple nights ago – and I thought I’d write it up!

Chop up some bacon or pancetta and saute in a little olive oil. When brown, add some minced garlic and the chopped leaves of a couple of small sprigs of rosemary. When it’s all highly scented, pour in a generous amount of red wine – let all the alcohol bubble away. Add chopped tomatoes (we used fresh as we have a glut to use up) and simmer away until it’s reduced to your liking. Salt and pepper and serve with pasta.

Last night's dinner - a fresh tomato sauce made with a little garlic, bacon, red wine and rosemary.

A variation that would make it even closer to what’s on offer at our local restaurant is to use cubed steak, removing it from the pan after browning to your liking, and then adding it back in at the end. Excellent stuff.

If you’re flying to Canada, there’s a chance you’ll be changing in Toronto Pearson International Airport, the busiest airport in the country. If you’re flying through Terminal 1, there appear to be a wide variety of restaurants; there are lots of new ones since I last went through there. In Terminal 3, there are fewer choices (always a Tim Horton’s though!) but I managed to find a good place to dine on my recent stopovers there. Caplansky’s Deli – a branch of a popular Toronto diner.

My first stopover coincided with dinnertime and with many hours to kill, I got comfy at a large table by the window and ordered myself a feast. One smoked meat sandwich, with latkes substituting the usual fries, and a side house salad. While the salad was a little too heavily dressed, the croutons did add texture and crunch. The smoked meat was fantastic, as were the latkes. A selection of their own deli mustards also kept me entertained.

A long layover means a proper fill up! Excellent smoked meat and latkes at Caplansky's Deli.

My second stopover was at breakfast time and I was ravenous. I ordered a smoked meat hash (with potato and onion) and over-easy eggs instead of the usual sunny side up. This wasn’t too bad and I was tickled by the addition of a few bites of fresh fruit. With ketchup and mustard, it was some incredibly comforting eating. 

This was breakfast at Caplansky's Deli at Toronto Pearson when I flew from Québec to Vancouver. Smoked meat hash!

I wish all airports had diners! And I already know what I want to try the next time I’m in Toronto – their fried chicken and their smoked meat knish or their fried salami for breakfast!

I want to break up all these holiday eating posts with something a little more local. Croydon! In particular, Brasserie Vacherin in Croydon, one of our locals; it’s run by Malcolm John who also runs our beloved Le Vacherin in Chiswick. We’re often there for dinner and occasionally for breakfast but recently we stopped in for their relatively new weekend brunch menu. And it’s a cracker! Two courses for £12.95 or three for £17.50 and it includes bottomless Virgin Marys!

Last weekend we started with a red wine poached pear, blue cheese, walnut, and endive salad for Blai (his favourite and we never have blue cheese at home as I’m not a fan and I do most of the food shopping!) and crispy fried squid with roast garlic aioli for me.

Three excellent courses for brunch at Brasserie Vacherin. Here are our starters: a poached pear and blue cheese salad and crispy fried squid. And bottomless Virgin Marys!

We shared our main courses: a roast beef lunch (Sundays only) and fried eggs with chorizo and avocado and bacon. The roast was alright, just needing a little more seasoning – best not to take my word for it though, as I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday roasts. I’m not sure what compelled me to order it; I always feel like one about once a year. The eggs definitely felt more brunchy and the bacon was a standout.

A roast dinner on my side and baked eggs on Blai's, though we shared everything!

By this point, we were very full! But I wanted dessert (greedy!) and so we split a single crepe Suzette. Only it turned out to be crepes plural and the whole lot turned up on a dinner plate. It was huge! It was delicious.

Crepes Suzette! This was a dinner plate! 😜

It’s a brilliant deal and the food is all excellent. There are more traditional brunch options on the menu like eggs benedict or baked eggs or other more lunch items like a burger and fish and chips; we’ve tried almost all of these and so can vouch for them all. There’s something for everyone and I love it. Thank goodness it’s a local of ours!

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

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