We saw New Year’s Eve in in Barcelona in our usual quiet way – at home and with lots of amazing food! 31 Dec 2014 first started with breakfast for me and my brother at La Pubilla (Blai and I had a fantastic lunch there before) near the Mercat de La Llibertat. Tallats (espressos with milk) to start… … with pa amb tomàquet (excellent execution here) on the side while we waited for our main dishes. Their breakfasts are esmorzars de forquilla, or fork breakfasts, proper hearty, savoury dishes on a plate, as opposed to the usual handheld pastry most people have. We split salsitxa amb patates de forquilla (sausages with panfried potatoes) … … and ous ferrats amb terrina de peu i morro (fried eggs with a terrine made with snouts and trotters). Everything was brilliant, especially the very unique terrine (sliced and pan fried), with its mix of soft and crispy and gelatinous textures. These were my kind of breakfasts! This was a great start to these days of eating and I do want to explore more places for esmorzars de forquilla in Barcelona! The rest of the day was spent wandering and generally being a tourist. (This included a trip to La Boqueria on the request with my brother. I was dreading this visit and I had reason to dread it – the place was so absolutely packed with tourists, it was almost impossible to move. I do feel for the locals – I’m not sure how they manage to do any shopping there.) We were back at home with plenty of time to spare to the midnight countdown and what greeted us there was awe inspiring. Check out the table! There was even a trolley filled top to bottom with lots of other goodies. Blai’s mum really outdid herself! There were so many things to eat that it was almost overwhelming. There were even these platters of big red prawns grilled on the planxa … … and of her famous fried artichokes. As you can imagine, there were a lot of leftovers for the next few days! We ended, of course, with the twelve grapes for the new year’s eve countdown (that’s a fruit portion, right?!). On 1 Jan 2015, my mother-in-law also had grand plans for lunch! The over 100-year-old soup tureen was trucked out and filled with a golden broth of chicken bits and eggs. This was sopa de menuts, a Valencian soup of little pieces from the chicken – i.e. chicken offal and cockscombs – as well as chopped boiled eggs. To serve it, it’s poured over a toasted crouton at the bottom of the bowl. The broth is rich and meaty (chickeny?) and the bread gives a great additional texture to the soup. It’s a recipe she learned in Valencia from her own mother-in-law. Her second dish is now possibly her most famous dish… well, to me anyway! It’s her vedella, a Catalan style braised beef that takes two days to make and that’s just so utterly melt-in-your-mouth delicious that we cleaned the entire pan. And those were our New Year’s celebrations! How was your New Year’s Eve?
Mon, 12 Jan, 2015
Thu, 8 Jan, 2015
Happy new year, everyone! We’ve been spending the last week and a bit in Barcelona where we were relaxing and working and I was mainly playing tour guide to my brother who was also visiting. It was a hectic but a very good visit. Before all the craziness though, we did have a couple days to ourselves, of which one was used for a trip to the historic city of Ripoll.
It was a two hour train ride there, which we whiled away by staring out the window at the beautiful scenery and trying to pop our ears as the train rose with the elevation towards the Pyrenees. It was cold in the town when we arrived but from the station we went directly to its famous monastery – the Monestir de Santa Maria de Ripoll. It was founded in the 9th century by the amusingly named Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pilós) and was the main centre of religion in Catalonia until the 15th century. A few of the great Counts of Barcelona are interred there.
Of particular note in the monastery are the tower (above) and the portal (below). The portal is a beautiful example of Romanesque sculpture and there was a bid to have it recognised by UNESCO when we visited.
It was lunchtime when we finished at the monastery. It being a Monday wasn’t exactly helpful as we discovered that many restaurants were closed; even the tourist office was closed on Mondays! We wandered until we found one that was open and that space for us two to squeeze in. That restaurant was Can Canaules, on the ground floor of a beautiful Modernista building.
As is usual for us, we went for the menu del dia, that wonderful and affordable set lunch deal offered throughout Catalonia. Here their menu was €12.50 and consisted of two dishes, dessert, and bread. Instead of including a beverage like most other restaurants though, they included a glass of juice or a salad.
And as is usual when Blai and I eat together, we split all our dishes. The first was Escudella de galets i tall de pilota, the classic Christmas soup which here was executed perfectly and was such a lovely meat broth to slurp on that cold day. The slice of meatball, one of the usual components that is cooked up in the broth, was delicious.
Rossejat de fideus amb trompetes de mort, llagostins, sèpia was a simple but good saute of short noodles with wild mushrooms (the black trumpets of death) and seafood.
They forgot our salads (service was a bit shaky) but an inquiry ensured that they arrived on our table.
Of our second dishes, the first was Xai del Ripollès a la brasa, lamb from Ripoll served grilled and here with a side of fries. These made for some fabulous gnawing at the bone.
The second second dish was a stunner – Bacallà amb salsa de tomàquet natural i panses (salted cod with tomato sauce and raisins). The combination sounded strange at first but the raisins really did work well with the tomato sauce and the tender cod.
Desserts were pretty good if on the sweet side. Flam was homemade and executed well.
The Iogurt amb salsa de gerds (yogurt with raspberry sauce) was at first perplexing with its crunchy grains of sugar. It turns out they hadn’t melted into the raspberry puree and though this was a bit of a fail, I secretly enjoyed crunching on the sugar!
Plaça Gran, 20
We hastened to see as much of the small town as we could but it was terribly chilly and not long after lunch, we were looking for a warm place to sit. We ended up back in front of the monastery where there was a patisserie with a cafe within. This was Pastissería Costa.
I resisted their pastries overstuffed with whipped cream and had a hot chocolate with melindros, the Catalan cakey fingers that a perfect for dunking in the thick drink. These melindros were the best I’d had in a while – soft and fresh and with a gentle lemon flavour.
The pastry Blai chose was topped with cabell d’angel, which translates to angel hair. This stringy (hairy!) looking sweet is made from pumpkin and you’ll find it in many Spanish and Catalan pastries. I need also mention that all their pastries were wonderfully fresh.
On our way out, we also purchased a bag of moixaines, a biscuit that originated in Ripoll. The name translates to ‘caresses’ and it also goes by the name of carícies (‘fondles’). These little rolls are made with the same wafers as neules but these are filled with a hazelnut and almond paste. Yes, they’re as delicious as they sound!
Plaça Sant Eudald, 7
Ripoll was a lovely town to visit in North Catalonia but if you do visit in the middle of winter, as we did, wrap up warmly! And to see more, perhaps time your visit not to occur on a Monday.
Tue, 23 Dec, 2014
Croydon Council and the Greater London Authority, along with the Portas Town Team, have opened Surrey StrEatery on, you guessed it, Surrey Street, a market street that’s existed in some form or other since the 13th century. It’s kind of like a food court, but with indoor street food stalls.
Seven street food stalls were invited/accepted to open in the building for half a year and there are also events and a good overall sense of community there. The seven stalls get promotion for the 26 weeks as well as general business support; I think it’s a brilliant idea to help out new local small businesses!
When I visited earlier this month, Christmas was in full swing at the StrEatery, with food hampers filled with goods from the stalls available for gifting. It was warm inside and it was welcoming; every stall radiated smiles.
The current stands there are:
- Cravings “La Carreta” – Mexican street food
- Mum’s the Chef – fresh wraps
- Olivier’s Bakery – bakery and patissserie
- Plumbun – cakes
- Ro Co Coffee – coffee
- Sannas Goan Street Food – Goan street food
- The Liquid Pod – soups, stews and smoothies
I grabbed a flat white from Ro Co (excellent) and perused the rest of the stalls.
That day, I opted for a bit of Goan food – for £5.50, I received a plate with Goan fish curry on a soft steamed rice cake, freshly fried vegetable bhajis, a lamb samosa and a bit of homemade carrot pickle. It was all brilliant – the curry was fabulous, the bhajis were crisp and not greasy, and the samosa had a great spicing to the lamb.
I really enjoyed my visit there and I can’t wait to get back in the new year to try the other stands. It’s definitely worth a visit and after you’ve had a good fill, you can pop outside and shop for groceries to take home too!
It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 8am to 5pm each day. (Do check for Christmas openings!)
Unit 3 Bridge House
13 Surrey Street
Croydon CR0 1RG
Sat, 20 Dec, 2014
My friend KK is so organised. Again he visited from Switzerland and he’d already made a lunch booking for us at The Dairy before I even learned he was going to be in town that weekend (we had discussed visiting on his prior visit here!). And two Saturdays ago, that’s where I met him, at The Dairy in Clapham Common. It’s a tiny place from the front (blink and you’ll miss it) but there’s enough seating within. I very much liked its pseudo-rustic cosy atmosphere.
Along with the menus, we received the following little snack: a Marmite crisp topped with cheese and onion. It was a very promising start, with the usually very assertive trio of flavours toned down into a very pleasing amalgam.
There were a couple of menus for us to peruse. We didn’t choose the tasting menu (£45 per head) but instead chose a number of things we liked the sound of from the a la carte menu. We were originally advised to choose a snack, a vegetable, a fish or meat and a sweet for each of us but we ended up all over the shop on the menu. Just the one snack, one veg, two fishes and two meats between the two of us and we’d decide on dessert later!
Straight after putting in our order and returning our menus, we received bone marrow butter on a stone and a little canvas bag with a small round loaf of homemade sourdough nestled within. Oh, it was warm and cosy within that bag! This was one of the best breads I’d received in a restaurant in recent memory and I could have made a meal of just that and the luxuriously meaty butter.
Our only snack was what we thought sounded like the most exciting thing on the snack menu – the Cured Iberico presa, parsnip, hazelnut (£6.50). The slices of tender pork shoulder were here topped with parsnip crisps and shaved hazelnut. Delicious but yes, snack sized!
Our vegetable was the Hay smoked curd, Jerusalem artichokes, roasted onions, chanterelles (£8.50). What impressed me was not only the flavour combinations but the variety of different textures too. The Jerusalem artichokes showed up in three different ways on this plate: braised to a slippery smoothness, mashed into a puree and fried to a crisp. Inspiring!
Our fish dishes both arrived together. The ‘Lady Hamilton’ smoked cod, charred leeks, sorrel, fried bread (£8.50) was delicious. I loved the way everything combined – the smokiness of the fish, the sweet and smokey leeks, the zesty zing of the sorrel and the crunch of the fried bread.
The ‘Julie Girl’ monkfish, toasted cauliflower, romanesco, dulse butter (£10) was equally excellent. Neither was “better” than the other; they were just different. I loved the way cauliflower, a normally kind of dull vegetable, was here again used in different ways – there was roasted cauliflower, fried crumbs, puree, and raw shavings. I’m still not entirely sure what dulse butter was but the slick of butter was quite nice under everything.
Onto the meats! The Chicken oyster, crispy skin, cellar kimchi, burnt kale (£9) was a fabulous combination of two of my favourite chicken parts with homemade kimchi and the fashionable crispy kale. That pressed chicken skin terrine thing….wow. That was one of the best chicken skin things I’ve ever had. I have no idea what to call it. This plate was perfectly put together with the rich and the sour balancing ever so well.
We finished with the Suckling pig belly and cheek, cabbage, apple & walnut chutney (£10) which was also very good. The cheeks were braised and tender and the belly was roasted and also tender and both matched well to the sweet and tangy chutney. The cabbage came in large strips which were visually pleasing but y’know, they were just large strips of blanched cabbage. That said, I can see why they were included – their blandness were a foil to the richness everywhere else on the plate.
Of the three desserts on the list, only one really shouted out at us (we weren’t in the mood for rice pudding or pannacotta). Our choice of Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream (£6.50) was just incredible. It was all very moreish without being too sweet and cloying.
We were very happy with our meal. We were made even more happy with the lovely petits fours that came before our coffees. What struck me about their sweets was how they all weren’t too sweet – and the petit fours were no exception. Tucked within the folds of an old menu were pieces of short and buttery biscuit, a herby green cake with a red berry centre, and a pear jelly coated in sherbet powder.
With a large bottle of sparkling water, 2 double espressos and service, the total came to about £37 each. I’ll be back – I can’t wait to see what other dishes they come up with!
15 The Pavement
London SW4 0HY
The owners of The Dairy have recently opened another restaurant in Clapham – The Manor. If you’re visiting London, I wouldn’t recommend trying both the restaurants on the same visit as there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two menus. My friend KK learned that the hard way.
Sun, 7 Dec, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
Fri, 28 Nov, 2014
I went to visit my brother in Leigh-on-Sea a couple weekends ago and was utterly charmed by the little town, yes, by the sea. I loved the old fishing village of Old Leigh and I loved the independent shops and restaurants along the Broadway. And I loved all the food I ate while there. Dinner was at Agostinho’s, a Portuguese restaurant I’d identified as promising and we made a booking for the Saturday night.
Agostinho is the head chef in the kitchen and his very chatty and friendly wife leads the front of house team. Agostinho is from Madeira, which as a fact by itself isn’t odd but what is odd is that the other Portuguese restaurants in the Leigh/Southend area (there are three in total, I think) are all run by Madeirans. The only things I knew about this Portuguese island were the basket rides down the hills and the fortified wine. According to Wikipedia, a particularly Madeiran speciality is fish with fried bananas….. ok, I’d see what else Madeira has to offer then!
Do make sure to book a table – the place was packed when we got there at 9am. The menu is full of lots of tempting things but we decided to share just the one starter when we saw the size of the main courses. To start, one order of their homemade Pasteis De Bacalhau (£5.95). These fried morsels sure beat any of the manufactured frozen pasteis many Portuguese cafes use – these were light and fluffy and full of fish (and boneless!).
We shared two of the mains. A Portuguese Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos (£16.95) was a huge warming bowl of a tomato based seafood stew. Various fishes, mussels, and squid were found swimming inside along with chunks of potato and slices of peppers. The dish is perfect for any seafood lover and the broth was fantastic. We had rice on the side to soak up that broth.
We also split an Espetada a Moda da Madeira (£14.75), a grilled skewer of sirloin and bay leaves in a wine sauce with lots of garlic. If this is Madeiran food, then Madeiran food is insanely delicious. The meat was perfectly tender (medium-rare at our request) and I was mopping up that fabulously winey sauce with the equally perfectly sauteed potatoes.
I was feeling guilty about the lack of vegetables and ordered a side of Runner Beans (£4.00 for two servings) for us. Simple (well, simple and butter-tossed) and just what we needed on the side.
Despite the both of us feeling pretty bloated, I insisted on squeezing in a dessert, especially when I saw (from a neighbouring table) that they had a homemade Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds (£5.25). This light and truly very airy dessert is like a regular caramel flan but with the texture and density of clouds. I mean, c’mon, it’s mostly air! I don’t think any of the whipped cream was necessary – if it’s just me and the Molotofe, I’ll be happy.
It was no surprise then that this restaurant was packed that Saturday night. Service was friendly, the food was excellent, the room was warm and cosy. It’s almost the opposite of many of the newer, louder wine bars in the area but I like it very much for that reason!
157 Leigh Road
Sat, 22 Nov, 2014
Yes, another local to Croydon review! This time it’s the West Croydon branch of Dosa n Chutny, the much beloved restaurant in Tooting. I was keen to see how the Croydon branch compared. I’ll just be upfront and say that service was an utter shambles the Sunday afternoon we visited but luckily the food was excellent. Hopefully the service does improve once the front of house and the cooks all communicate with each other.
Anyway, to drink, we ordered Fresh Lemon Juice (£2.25) and Orange + Ginger + Apple Juice (£2.95). Both were excellent but it was the latter that stood out, having a perfect balance of all three ingredients. Not too gingery, not too thin and appley, not tasting just of orange juice. Just perfect.
Our food all arrived at once. A Special Malasa Dosa (£3.50) turned out to have two kinds of potato mixture in the middle. Apart from the major colour differences, they both tasted pretty similar. The different chutneys were all coconut based and the green and orange ones had a fabulous kick to them. Great sambhar too. The dosa was both soft and crisp and a most excellent specimen.
A Bhindi Do Pyaza (£4.75) was well made and helped us with our vegetable content that lunchtime. I can’t resist any good okra dish.
We ordered a Veechu Parotha (£1.50) to mop up the gravy and it was a good, tasty, if small, flatbread for it.
Despite my seeing our waiter write down our order very very clearly, the kitchen managed to get one of our dishes incorrect (a lot of incorrect orders were also going to other tables that afternoon). There was a bit of a long wait then for our correct order of Paneer Majestic (£4.75). But what arrived was worth the wait! It was indeed majestic! Fingers of paneer were battered and fried and then tossed with a fried mixture of garlic, cashews, spices and …spinach? fenugreek? I’m still not entirely sure what the crispy greens were but the dish was utterly fantastic.
After all of that, we decided to order another dosa to help mop up the rest of the bhindi dish. A Paper Roast Dosa (£3.50) came out swiftly – I do love these extra thin, extra crispy dosas and the one at Dosa n Chutny has the added benefit of being very cheap. Oh yeah, the prices are pretty good here, aren’t they?
Good stuff. I only wish it was within walking distance of our house! Oh well, the bus ride is ok too.
Dosa n Chutny
466 London Road
Croydon CR0 2SS