Restaurants


Apparently Friday nights are taco nights in Sweden. There’s some understanding (thanks to a clearly ridiculously successful marketing campaign) that Friday nights are for cosy nights in with tacos (or pizza) and junk food; there’s even a word for it – Fredagsmys (cosy Friday). Swedish tacos are … very different from Mexican tacos and perhaps are more similar to those eaten of the Old El Paso kit variety here in the UK. Actually there are some clear differences from these as well as this hilarious Reddit post illustrates.

Anyway, I thought of this tradition as I munched away on some excellent Mexican food in Sweden. We’ll rewind to half an hour prior to proper tacos – after a few days of butter and cream, I couldn’t face another very rich cream-laden Swedish meal. I contemplated the highly rated vegan Chinese place near my Airbnb flat but when I saw the reviews for La Neta, a Mexican joint just a little further walk away, tacos tacos tacos consumed my mind.

The restaurant on Barnhusgatan is tiny – it’s a basement joint with a large kitchen (I believe they make their tortillas on site) and shared dining tables and a counter by the window. Queue at the till, place your order, find a seat, and pick up your order when your buzzer goes.

I had one each of the tacos on offer that day: Tacos de Pastor (marinated pork with pineapple), Suadero (a slow cooked beef), Bistec (grilled steak). They were 22 kr each and were served on homemade corn tortillas.

Tacos

Of course, tacos are not complete without a salsa bar – and I’m glad to report that La Neta had a little one! I added the chopped onions and coriander and helped myself to the green and red salsas on offer. From what I can see on Instagram, their salsas are made fresh each day. They were perfect – the tacos and the salsas. The meats were all tender and flavourful and tacos just looked right. An aside: I read recently that La Neta was opened by two natives of Monterey, California, both of whom missed the Mexican food they could get easily back home – these were legit tacos.

Tacos and Salsas

There were quesadillas too.

Quesadillas

had a Rajas (poblano chili, courgette, corn, onion and philadelphia – 28 kr) …

Rajas

… and a Choripapa (potato, chili, onion and chorizo – 28 kr). Both were excellent and of note was the Mexican chorizo which was totally on point.

Choripapa

My Mexican dinner hit the spot – and fret not, I went straight back to trying more Swedish foods after my palate was refreshed here. There are freshly made tortilla chips and larger tacos in flour tortillas too. And you can even buy their freshly made corn tortillas by the kilo. I love this place!

La Neta
Barnhusgatan 2
111 23, Stockholm

There’s a second branch on Södermalm.

Head south from Gamla Stan in Stockholm and you’ll pass the metro station Slussen. In front of the station is a large square that will be filled with the usual fruit stands and flower stands; somewhere towards the back will be this van, with its large fish sign emblazoned with ‘Nystekt Strömming’.

Nystekt Strömming

The name of the van translates to ‘Freshly Fried Herring’ and yup, that’s all they do here. There are options to have your fried herring in a burger bun, or on some brown bread as an open faced sandwich, or as a ‘meal’, which is the option I chose. This was my small fried herring plate that came with mashed potatoes, pickled cucumber, sliced onions, coleslaw, and a piece of knäckebröd. I think this was about 60 kr (SEK). There are a few tables on which to park yourself though if the weather is nice, there’s plenty of ledges on which to sit around the area.

Small Herring Plate

I do believe fried herring is now my favourite herring preparation – I love the flavour of the oily fish when cooked like this! The fish was fresh and tender and not at all fishy and the salads help cut through any richness you may find. I wish I’d had more opportunity to try the rest of the menu; the burger looked great as did the open sandwich. Or if you don’t find yourself in the area, you can find fried herring at some traditional Swedish restaurants too (more on that later).

It’s not for late night eats (I believe it closes at 6pm on most days) but an order from there makes for a perfect snack or light lunch.

The first thing that comes to mind when Sweden is brought up is probably meatballs. Or Ikea. Or Ikea meatballs. Of course, on a week-long trip to Stockholm (for business and leisure), there’d be plenty of time to try the real thing. I had my first meatballs on this trip at Meatballs for the People, a meatball-loving pub/restaurant located in the trendy area of SoFo (south of Folkungagatan) in Södermalm.

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I visited for lunch and there was a short menu of traditional Swedish meatballs, a Caesar salad with rooster meatballs, and an open-faced meatball sandwich. One of the first for me please! This was also my first experience with the lunch deals in Stockholm. I placed my order for my meatballs and the total price with a drink came to about 130 SEK. I waited for my lunch, there were little stations around to help yourself to homemade pickles, bread (and knäckebröd) and butter, and after your meal, biscuits with coffee. Lovely!

Swedish Meatballs!

My bowl of beautifully tender meatballs came with a little hill of mashed potatoes, lingonberries, pickled cucumber slices, and plenty of the usual cream gravy. I loved the lingonberries, clearly just fresh berries cooked gently with a little sugar; they made for a sweet-tart pop beside the creamy gravy and potatoes. Highly recommended!

They also sell their meatballs (quite a few varieties from what I could see that day) to have at home.

Meatballs for the People
Nytorgsgatan 30
116 40 Stockholm
Sweden

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

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