Restaurants


I love thin crust pizzas. Not the thinner than deep pan kinds but the really, really thin ones….the ones we had at Pizzeria La Montecarlo in Rome. While the cracker thin crust I recalled wasn’t exactly achieved at Pizza Union, it makes a good attempt at these thin crust Roman-style pizzas. And they’re extremely budget friendly!

Pick Up

The most expensive pizza on the menu at Pizza Union is £6.50; the cheapest is £3.95. For that price, you get a large thin-crust pizza that is plenty for one for a meal. If you need dessert, there’s a sweet dough ring with mascarpone and nutella (I didn’t try it but it looked amazing) or gelato from Oddono’s. We started with drinks and olives while we waited for the buzzer to go off, letting us know when to pick up our pizzas.

Olives and San Pellegrino

My Calabria, with mascarpone, spicy n’duja sausage and rocket, was excellent with plenty of each ingredient. The n’duja gave a lovely punch to the crisp pizza. Again, not the thinnest but thin enough. If you’re expecting soft, fluffy Neapolitan-style pizzas, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Calabria

Blai’s Regina, with parmesan, ham, mushrooms and olives, was a classic and I think the layer of melting cheese worked well with the crisp base. Oozy cheese, crispy base. Yes.

Regina

For dessert, we shared a tub of gelato (£2.50) which was generously filled though a little denser than we like it – unlike freshly scooped. But like everything else on the menu, it’s very good value.

The place does fill up quickly on a Saturday night (when we went) but with lots of communal tables, you’re sure to find a seat; the pizzas also fly out so turnaround is quick. I like it very much.

Pizza Union
246-250 Pentonville Road
King’s Cross
London N1 9JY

There’s a second branch in Spitalfields.

Day 3 was not a public holiday and the streets of Milan finally bustled again. Everything was open and we had our choice of cafes and bakeries for breakfast. We ended up at Panarello, a Genoan chain that is excellent. Our pastries were fantastic and if you have space for a box of their canestrelli (a buttery, ring-shaped biscuit), do get them.

Breakfast

Panarello
Piazza S. Nazaro in Brolo, 15
20122 Milano, Italy

We spent a long morning at the Pinacoteca di Brera, the main art gallery in Milan. The collection is amazing but poor Blai’s heart was broken as its Caravaggio was currently on loan elsewhere. Ah, an excuse to come back surely!

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We kept things simple for lunch, knowing that we would feast in the evening. We stopped into a cafe near the Pinacoteca which seemed to attract a huge lunchtime crowd. They had the usual primi and secondi for those who wanted a relaxed meal but it struck us that Milan was very much like London with its quick lunches on the run. Most people opted for the piadine and toasted sandwiches for their lunch; actually, this cafe seemed to specialise in piadina sandwiches, boasting a long list of them.

This was my piadina, a thin flatbread folded over a number of fillings and then toasted.

My Piadina

And inside? I chose the one with smoked ham, a bitter chicory similar to radicchio (I believe), mushrooms and tonnato sauce. Yes, that rather brilliant creamy sauce made with tuna. Delicious.

Tonnato Sauce!

Caffè Ponte Nuovo
Via S. Marco, 14
20121 Milano, Italy

There was more wandering around Milan, some sitting in a cafe, and then while Blai browsed a bookshop in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, I worked up an appetite by climbing up to the roof of the Duomo! It’s good fun and it wasn’t at all as busy as I expected up there.

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And that night, we finally had Milanese food! I had had a few people recommend the Antica Trattoria della Pesa for classic Milanese cuisine and that was our one blowout meal. It’s not cheap but it was excellent. We were offered a few bites of a saltfish fritter and one with peppers as we perused the menu.

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OK, so we shared a Roman salad first but I do love an Insalata di puntarelle so! It was fresh and bitter and salty and tangy here.

Insalata di puntarelle

We had to have a Risotto alla milanese, though their risotto al salto (a fried pancake of rissoto alla milanese) was also tempting. It was utterly fantastic, smelling strongly of saffron, and with a wonderful bite to the rice and an overall savouriness.

Risotto alla milanese

A pasta dish that was shouting at us was their Tagliatelle ai carciofi , which was brilliant, with a touch of tomato.

Tagliatelle ai carciofi

And then we eschewed the ossobuco and the cotoletta for Cassoeula, which is a very typical wintry Milanese dish. It’s a heavy dish of pork sausages and other pork bits (not offal exactly but not common cuts) cooked for ages with lots of Savoy cabbage and served with soft polenta. This massive platter (the photo doesn’t seem to show its size) was really a serving for one that we split between the two of us! This was a hearty dish that filled us up and I can see its appeal and its necessity on a cold, wintry day.

Cassoeula

The desserts on offer were simple but after all that rich food, simple is all one desires. We split a Gelato di crema con marmellata fatta in casa. The fruit used in the homemade jam was some kind of plum. Again, simple but perfect.

Gelato di crema con marmellata fatta in casa

It’s not cheap, however, as the bill came to about €100 altogether but nothing could be faulted. It was a fantastic meal; do try to book ahead as it fills up quickly.

Antica Trattoria della Pesa
Viale Pasubio, 10
20154 Milano, Italy

Our final morning and our final breakfast in Milan (I barely eat breakfast here in London but if all cafes and bakeries here were like Milanese cafes and bakeries, I would have breakfast every day). This was the weakest bakery of our trip but was still better than many places in London. A pistachio croissant was fine while my cappuccino was too milky.

Pistachio Croissant

A savoury salame sandwich was excellent though.

Salame Sandwich

Our last morning was spent at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a small and intimate collection of art and antiques that doesn’t seem to attract the usual crowds of tourists (though to be fair, it did seem to be generally quite quiet in Milan – perhaps most tourists in Italy don’t bother with this city?).

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After a couple hours in the museum, there was time for an early lunch, which started in a queue in a fishmonger’s. Oh yes, the Pescheria Spadari is a fishmonger’s that’s been situated in central Milan (a 5 minute walk from the Duomo) for around 80 years. In addition to selling fresh fish, they run a lunchtime bistrot with delicious fresh fish dishes. I think the menu changes a little each day but there’s always fritto misto, which we bought to takeaway and eat outside. It was about €10 and was as fresh and amazing as you’d expect.

Fritto Misto

Pescheria Spadari
Via Spadari, 4
20123 Milano, Italy

A final bite, before taking a tram to the main station, from where we caught a bus to the airport, was at Princi – yes, my beloved Princi in London is the only international outpost of this Milanese chain. Two slices of fantastic focaccia – one topped with sliced vegetables …

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… and the other sliced and filled with Parma ham. Yes, it’s as good as the one in London and while writing this up, I realise I need to make another visit to ours soon to get a taste of Milan again.

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Princi
Via Speronari, 6
Milano, Italy

I love Milan! Of course, with more time, I think we would have ventured out of the city centre more, especially to eat and I bet I would have fallen in love with it even more. Next time….there will be a next time. As is usual, all the photos from our trip can be found in this Flickr album.

Right, about a month ago, I realised we didn’t have anything planned for Easter (one of the few free holiday days I get off from work) and after a bit of a discussion, we came to the realisation that we were both jonesing to go back to Italy. A little while later, after a bit of googling, we had booked two cheap flights to Milan and a budget hotel as well.

And the next thing we knew, we were on a plane from London to Milan! Italy! The city of fashion! The city in Easter! Oh yeah, Easter. Easter in a very Catholic country turned out to be quite a difficult one for a couple interested in food. Many of the cities top eateries were closed on both Easter Sunday (many restaurants are closed on Sundays anyway) and Easter Monday and we ended up eating not the food of Milan or Lombardy but the cuisine of Parma, of Naples, of Emilia-Romagna. Eventually we got some Milanese cuisine (that’s for the second post).

We landed to beautiful weather – blue skies that were the perfect background to the glistening Duomo.

Duomo

Unfortunately, within about two hours, it started pouring with rain and we found ourselves trudging through empty and dead streets trying to find some dinner. We ended up in one of the only restaurants that seemed to be open – Salsamenteria di Parma.

After we placed our order, bread and a couple of sauces were dropped onto our table. These were the sauces for which they made their name – the two turned out to be whichever random two our waiter grabbed but they turned out to be scallion and artichoke. And they were excellent.

Bread and Sauces

It was a brilliant start to a fabulous meal. Here was polenta fritta e mariola, the latter being an incredible spiced cooked pork sausage.

Polenta Fritta e Mariola

Tripletta rustica was a selection of excellent salames and mortadella.

Tripletta Rustica

The Tripletta Parmigiana was a trio of pasta dishes – tortelli di zucca (pumpkin), tortellli d’erbetta (Swiss chard), and anolini di San Secondo. The first two were dressed simply in butter and parmesan while the last was served with a creamy tomato and cured ham sauce.

Tripletta Parmigiana

I had to get some vegetables in us and a padellata di verdure was a selection of vegetables slowly cooked with lots of olive oil.

Padellata di Verdure

For dessert, we shared a doppietta del goloso, a selection of torta sbrisolona, zabaione, and salame di cioccolato con panna. That torta was an incredible crunchy nutty biscuit and that salame! I’ve got to learn the recipe for it.

Doppietta del Goloso

Salsamenteria di Parma
Via S. Pietro All’Orto, 9
20100 Milano, Italy

The next morning was equally grey and drab but what immediately picked us up was a standing-by-the-bar breakfast at Panettone Vergani, one of the few places open on Easter Monday between our hotel and the centre of Milan. Blai’s chocolate croissant turned out to be freshly filled with a chocolate cream – two pumps worth!

Chocolate Croissant

My chosen colomba was similar to a panettone but without the raisins…. so hence it’s better! It’s only really for Easter and there was plenty of candied citrus peel within. And a cappuccino – gotta have my morning coffee. Blai, on the other hand, developed a daily spremuta di arancia habit – freshly squeezed blood orange juice!

Cappuccino and Colomba

Vergani
Corso di Porta Romana 51
(MM Crocetta)
Milano, Italy

Walking around in the grey drizzle wasn’t great but we did manage to see lots of Milan and its churches that morning (most museums are closed on Mondays). We were ready for lunch and we stopped at the first place we could find that was open. This turned out to be Osteria al 29, an osteria that served Neapolitan food, including pizzas. But we were not in the mood for pizzas nor pasta and so we each ordered what was normally a secondo. My salsicce e friarielli hit the spot and caused me to fall in love all over again with the bitter greens.

Salsicce e Friarielli

Blai’s salmon was also delicious and served with all the vegetables one needed.

Salmon

Others were ordering pizzas which really did look excellent.

Osteria al 29
Corso Magenta, 29
20123 Milano, Italy

The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, an outstanding church built in the Lombardy Renaissance style (this is the same style of all the little churches in the Vall de Boí which we visited last year). If you visit (it’s free), do pay the extra €2 to see the ‘treasure’ of the basilica. Oh, and take a look down in the crypt for the somewhat traumatising peek at the remains of three of the most important saints in Milan, one being Sant’Ambrogio, its patron saint.

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Finding dinner that evening was equally challenging. I thought that perhaps Easter Monday wouldn’t be as bad as Easter Sunday but our first choice of trattoria was closed. We weren’t going to risk going to yet another one on our list (much of the good stuff is located far from the centre) and so we went to Eataly in Piazza XXV Aprile. I’d visited Eatalys in Genoa and New York and knew what to expect – food!

We went to the section focusing on meat and fish (along with other tourists and Italians also looking for a place to eat) and ended up with a good selection. Our starter of arrosticini, thin grilled skewers of lamb, were fantastic – all juicy and lamby – and an Easter special.

Arrosticini

We split two main courses – one was veal cheeks cooked in red wine and served with soft polenta …

Veal Cheeks with Polenta

… and the other was grilled amberjack on a lemony potato puree. Both were excellent and as we’d never eaten at an Eataly properly, we were impressed.

Amberjack on Potato Puree

Dessert was found downstairs at a soft-serve gelato outlet, specialising in soft serve made from some fresh Alpine milk. Our stracciatella was milk soft serve topped with chocolate sauce that hardened on contact – good stuff! Thank goodness for Eataly at Easter!

Eataly Milano Smeraldo
Piazza XXV Aprile, 10
20100 Milano, Italy

Days 3 and 4, coming up!

We were wandering around Covent Garden when I recalled a restaurant that a friend had recommended to me – On the Bab. We trotted over there for a light dinner early that evening and found it absolutely rammed with Korean and Chinese students. They sure can sniff out a good place for a meal!

And good it was, selling the kind of Korean food that’s a little bit junky, a little bit trendy, and a whole lot of popular. Korean fried chicken has to be on that list of course. This was their Yangyum chicken – sweet spicy (small – £5.5). Larger orders on other tables seemed to include extra salads. The chicken was good though a little swamped by the sauce. I enjoyed it though.

Yangyum Chicken - Sweet Chilli

Bab Twigim – Korean style kimchi and cheese arancini (£3.8) were very moreish and contained that very trendy combination of kimchi and mild melty cheese. Cheese (this mild stuff at least) does seem quite popular in Korea, showing up on all manner of spicy dishes.

Kimchi Arancini

Kimchi and cheese egg muffin (£3.5) came highly recommended from my friend and whatever I was expecting, it sure wasn’t this! This had been made in some mould with the kimchi and again that mild melting cheese (similar to an American mozzarella) had been cooked within a soft pancake-like batter. Excellent.

Kimchi and Cheese Egg Muffin

On the Bibimbab (£7.5) didn’t come in a stone bowl but was still very tasty with its multitude of ingredients. Of course, a hot stone bowl would have made it all better…

On the Bibimbab

In all, a solid place for a Korean meal in an unlikely location – Covent Garden. The only downside is how cramped the restaurant is, with neighbouring tables really pushed up against each other. But still, I’d like to try more from the menu! There are two other branches in addition to the Covent Garden one.

On the Bab
36 Wellington Street
Covent Garden
London WC2E 7BD

I’ve been procrastinating writing up my lunch at Hoppers because…well, it was a very meh meal. I’ve been looking for an occasion to go as I knew we’d need to queue for a table but I was really looking forward to our Sri Lankan/South Indian meal once a date was set. We waited for ages on a Saturday lunchtime for a table as we were four people – things moved quicker if you’re just two. When we finally sat down, it was at one of the tiny tables at the back and I hope they’ve been improved since our visit in late January. Drinks came quickly though watch out as the juices really are minuscule.

Drinks

Our starters were a mixed bag. The Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti (£5.5) looked brilliant and while the curried bone marrow was indeed amazing, the accompanying roti was somewhat hard and chewy. Well, that didn’t stop me spooning the marrow directly into my mouth.

Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti

Mutton Rolls (£4.5) were excellent and served with a spiced ketchup-like sauce.

Mutton Rolls

Lamb Kothu Roti (£8.5) was fine – quite a nice kothu roti though this could have done with a bit more of the roti!

Lamb Kothu Roti

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol (£4) were generally very good. The kiri hodi, a coconut milk gravy, was lovely but the pol sambol, a fresh coconut sambol, didn’t have the freshness and flavour I expected.

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol

Chicken Heart Chukka (£4.5) was amazing – this spicy stir fry of chicken hearts, chicken bites, tomatoes and beans hit the spot.

Chicken Heart Chukka

Our plates were cleared and trays then arrived with our main dishes – the hoppers and dosas and the curries too. Hoppers! Here’s a Hopper (£3) with a Black Pork Kari (£5.5). The pork curry was excellent and had us (ok, me) scraping the bowl clean.

Hopper

Here’s an Egg Hopper (£3.5) with the chutney set – Pol Sambol, Seeni Sambol, Coriander Chutney (£1.25).

Egg Hopper

And here’s a Dosa (£3) with its chutney set – Coriander Chutney, Tomato Chutney, Coconut Chutney (£1.25).

Dosa

And here’s a Podi Dosa (£3.5) – it’s a dosa but with podi on its inside surface. Podi is a spicy powdered mixture of chili powder and lentils that is lovely and here it was fiery hot. Fish Kari (£6) was good but not as good as the pork curry.

Podi Dosa

Unfortunately, it was the curries that were the stars rather than the hoppers, dosas or chutneys. Their namesake hoppers were tough rather than crisp at the edges. Likewise, the dosas were hard and chewy. The chutneys were generally ok but weren’t as flavourful as the sambols I’ve had from other Sri Lankan restaurants and takeaways.

Now this is the part of the post that is like the nostalgia bit…for desserts are no longer available at Hoppers. We were told that the kitchen is very small and desserts were going to be removed from the menu for them to concentrate on the savouries. Well, we took that opportunity to share a roasted rice kulfi

Roasted Rice Kulfi

… and a Sri Lankan classic, wattalapam. Both were excellent! The wattalapam was smooth and sweet while all the bits and pieces and jellies and fruit and rose flavouring with the kulfi made it a fun eat.

Wattalapam

Overall, it was a mixed bag which is such a shame. Well, on second thought, it’s saved me from queuing again for yet another trendy restaurant in central London!

Hoppers
49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG

We both happened to have the Valentine’s weekend free and thought we’d have that weekend away for a bit of a mini-break. We chose the town of Arundel with its magnificent castle though our timing was entirely wrong – the castle doesn’t open to the public before Easter! Still, there was plenty of walking through Arundel Park (bordering the South Downs), various antique shops to browse, and many excellent cafes to while away the time.

There was also one excellent dinner at The Parsons Table, run by a very experienced couple who spent time in London and Canada before returning to the UK to start their own restaurant.

I loved the space, which was apparently the former stables of the castle. The restaurant has only been open for a couple of months, tucked away between little boutique shops, and it’s larger than its exterior suggests, with tables spaced generously apart. Do book ahead; all the tables were taken that Saturday evening, which wasn’t a surprise given the occasion. I had chosen this restaurant based not only on reviews but also that they didn’t force a Valentine’s set menu on everybody that weekend. The only concession to Valentine’s seemed to be a big vase of red roses and a small selection of extra dishes only available that weekend. We mixed and matched selections from their regular menu and this Valentine’s one.

Warm bread and butter was set down after we ordered. Slices of sourdough and a rosemary bread were brilliant. Good start.

Bread and Butter

Pulled Ham Hock Croquetes, TPT Piccalilli were beautiful. These perfect spheres were chock full of shredded ham with the tangy pickles perfectly matching the croquetes’ richness.

Pulled Ham Hock Croquetes, TPT Piccalilli

Quail Ravioli with Mushroom Juswas off the Valentine’s menu. These fat parcels were clearly homemade and were served with a good amount of wild fungi.

Quail Ravioli with Mushroom Jus

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek (Bourguignon) was a special that day that had nothing to do with Valentine’s day…. They just happened to have some nice beef cheeks in, I guess! And I’m glad we ordered this as that beef check was just melting away and its gravy was perfect with the pureed potatoes and vegetables. A couple of lardons and mushrooms were the nod towards the Bourguignon style.

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek (Bourguignon)

Pan Roasted Loin of Sussex Coast Cod, Saffron and Cured Tomato Risotto, Padano Cheese was from the regular menu. The combination sounded like perhaps an odd mixture – I don’t think I’ve ever had fish with risotto or risotto with tomato. But it worked as the tomatoes provided the acidity for the fish.

Pan Roasted Loin of Sussex Coast Cod, Saffron and Cured Tomato Risotto, Padano Cheese

Again from the Valentine’s specials was the Assiette of Desserts, a selection to share for two. There was a chocolate ganache tart, a slice of lemon tart, a white chocolate cannolo on poached rhubarb, and a scoop of rum and raisin ice cream. Everything was excellent but of particular note was the cannolo with rhubarb. I’ve only just recently learned to appreciate rhubarb and these tender pieces were superb.

Assiette of Desserts

With Blai’s post-meal tea also came a couple of perfectly crumbly buttery biscuits. I think I may have scoffed them both!

Biscuits

The bill for all the food (but not service) came to a very reasonable (approximate) £60. I’m not sure what I expected from Arundel but they’re lucky to have such a fabulous place on their doorsteps.

I definitely hope to return … perhaps later in the year to see the castle too!

The Parsons Table
2 & 8 Castle Mews
Tarrant Street
Arundel, West Sussex
BN18 9DG

I’m not doing a very good job of writing up everywhere I’ve eaten recently; there’s just not enough time in the day and I’ve had to prioritise my writing a little. Was the restaurant meh? – well, that one can wait. One place though that did make a bit of an impact was Warung Padang London, which I visited a couple weeks ago. Now, you may remember my writing up an Indonesian stall in Chinatown a few years ago. That place is currently under refurbishment (or is it being destroyed? I have no idea) and it and the Malaysian cafe that was also housed in the centre have had to relocate. I found the Malaysian place recently serving street food lunches in Spitalfields. And now I’ve found the Indonesian place too – in a proper bricks and mortar building in Bermondsey.

At the corner of Scott Lidgett Crescent is the very unassuming joint that is Warung Padang London – and it’s not just a cafe/restaurant but it’s also a bit of a hostel at the back. It’s a casual restaurant that also offers takeaway and a (very) few Indonesian groceries. It was freezing that afternoon and we headed for the large shared table at the back of the restaurant, away from the door.

For our lunch, we first shared a vegetable rissole, which was a smashed croquette (I think the smashing wasn’t deliberate) which must have been introduced during the Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. This was tasty with a flavour I cannot put my finger on…. but it was clear this wasn’t a Dutch kroket.

Vegetable Rissole

My ayam penyet was a smashed (deliberately) and fried spiced chicken leg smeared with a very hot sambal made with plenty of belacan, that wonderfully fragrant and pungent fermented shrimp paste. This was excellent! And you can’t tell from the photo but it was huge!

Ayam Penyet

My friend had her eye on a vegetarian rice meal but they’d run out of tempe and were expecting some more to be shipped in. She had to change her order to a soto ayam but she was very pleased with this replacement. The thin spiced broth was chock full of lontong (pressed rice cakes), chicken and vermicelli. The condiments also presented to her allowed her to customise it to her liking – it all went in!

Soto Ayam

Soto Ayam Fixings

We were stuffed but my friend was pushing for a little dessert, which was how we ended up sharing a steamed banana cake. This turned out to be banana in sticky rice, all wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. And it was served hot with a scoop of ice cream and some palm sugar.

Steamed Banana Cake

Service is a little slow (perhaps one could call it ‘relaxed’) but friendly. And, of course, I cannot vouch for the hostel in the back! But I know I’ll return to try the rest of their menu – I have my eye on their nasi Padang (rice with dishes), nasi goreng (fried rice), and pisang goreng (fried banana)!

Warung Padang London
Prince of Wales P H
Scott Lidgett Crescent
London SE16 4XF

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