Shops


Earlier this year (in May), I had my first visit to Quebec City, probably the last major city in Canada I’ve been very keen to see due to its history. And its old walled city (the only walled city in North America north of Mexico) is indeed a UNESCO world heritage site. It was a short visit as I was there for work but I think I managed to see most of the highlights in my free day and whatever free time I could muster.

My hotel was located about a 10 minute walk from the walled old town (top tip: best not to choose a hotel on Grande Allée Est if you’re not keen on nightlife running into the wee hours of the morning right in front of your window). For my first walk through the city, I looped around the old fortress and headed straight for the river.

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That would be the mighty St Lawrence river! It’s particularly wide here as Québec is located near its mouth. Notice the gloomy day – this was late spring and there were still large lumps of snow that had failed to melt. It was cold!

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My first view of the Château Frontenac was breathtaking (as was the wind that day) – it’s quite a majestic landmark and understandably is one of the main symbols of the city. If it had been winter, it would have been a treat to go down the toboggan slide (located on the left in the photo below) dating back to 1884!

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From the Terrasse Dufferin and its multitude of benches facing the river, it was down the stairs to the lower town below.

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The Quartier Petit Champlain is a particularly charming tourist area with many shops with local products.

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At the end of the main street is a shop specialising in all things maple (Québec is famous for its maple syrup and, I learned, wild blueberries). It’s where I chose to go for my maple taffy later in the visit. Here, maple syrup is cooked to the soft ball stage and then poured over snow (shaved ice here). A stick is used to pick up the taffy and it tasted even better than I expected! This was just one step in my dream to experience a Québécois sugar shack but, y’know, outside the actual season (typically March and April).

Maple taffy! (Recall Little House in the Big Woods?)

There’s a funicular to help you get back up that hill too… And I certainly made use of that when I came back one evening from a work dinner in the lower town. Handy!

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I continued walking around the port area until I reached the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec. This market was made up of many local farm stands selling local products – I picked up some amazing fresh maple sugar as a gift for friends here.

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Fiddlehead ferns (têtes de violon in French – violin heads) were in season and were all over the market. I had a chance to have some at a dinner later on.

Fiddlehead Ferns!

My sugar shack style lunch was had at La Buche, a restaurant specialising in Quebecois cuisine. I went full on with their massive brunch platter that evoked a sugar shack kind of feeling. There were eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, ham, cretons, fèves au lard (the Québec version of baked beans), a crepe with maple syrup, toast with blueberry jam, and fruit salad. Hearty it was and I was very full the rest of the day – I did try my best but no, I didn’t finish the entire thing!

Sugar Shack Plate

There was a very nice dinner that night as well (oof!) and I’ll save that for a post of its own.

The oldest building in Quebec was across the street and it also holds another Quebecois restaurant – it’s not cheap but I’ve heard good things about it.

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Other places I particularly enjoyed visiting? Well, there was the side of the parking lot of the Anglican cathedral, where Aldo the donkey lives. He’s out and about most mornings, I believe.

We met an adorable donkey at the Anglican cathedral this morning! His name is Aldo.

I managed to wander into Le Monastère des Augustines – still a working Augustine convent but now also refurbished to be a hotel, restaurant, café, spa, and all round community space. It’s beautiful and very peaceful.

Le Monastère des Augustines

A visit to the Morrin Centre is a must for lovers of libraries. This historic English language library is tiny but gorgeous.

The Morrin Centre

Nearby is the Maison de la Littérature, a modern library created in a converted church. Again, absolutely beautiful but in its own different way.

Maison de la Littérature

A must-stop shop is the Épicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. It has many of its original fixings and you can spend an hour here poring over all the goods. It’s also the perfect place to pick up an edible souvenir – I went home with some incredible wild blueberry compote.

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I couldn’t not have poutine in Quebec! That quintessentially Québécois dish of fries, cheese curds, and gravy is said to have originated in the fast food chain Chez Ashton. That’s where I went and I wasn’t disappointed. The cheese curds, in particular, were exceptionally fresh, squeaking in between my teeth.

Poutine!!!

My first time in Quebec was certainly good fun if a bit cold. My next post is on Légende, the restaurant, but if you want to see more Quebec photos in the meantime, I’ll direct you to my Flickr album.

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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!

For my last post on Stockholm, I’d like to focus on what I always associate with Sweden – baked goods, excellent baked goods. These excellent baked goods made up my breakfasts and my fikas and were eaten on the hoof, in cafes, at tourist attractions.

My first fika was at Vete-Katten, a well-preserved labyrinth of a coffee shop in the centre of Stockholm.

Fika

There was, of course, coffee (apparently Swedes have the 2nd or 3rd highest coffee consumption per capita) and an excellent kardemummabulle (cardamom bun).

Kardemummabulle

And their Prinsesstarta! I never really understood this cake, thinking the green layer on top was all a bit odd but my goodness was it ever good. The lovely thin layer of green marzipan held together the lightest freshest whipped cream and a most delicate sponge. It’s a popular cafe and you may struggle to find a seat on the weekend but it’s worth the wait!

Prinsesstarta

Later in the week, I visited another well-known cafe located down the road – Sturekatten (what’s with the cat names?). The cafe is quite a well known one locally with its original vintage furniture and tasty food.

Sturekatten

I settled in with some coffee and a punschrulle (aka the dammsugare, or vacuum cleaner). Both very good though most of the baked goods did look a little better at Vete-Katten.

Coffee and Punsch-roll

And then there were the rest of the bakeries I frequented every morning before work each day for the remainder of the week. I was based that time very close to central Stockholm and I’d grab something from a different place each day. From a chain called Gateau, I tried an orange brioche filled with vanilla cream and then topped with chocolate. Not outstanding but very good. Perhaps it was a bit too much cream for me for breakfast time.

A few Stockholm photos to still get through. This was yesterday's breakfast: an orange brioche filled with vanilla cream and covered in chocolate.

From Fabrique, the Swedish chain with outlets in London (hooray!), an outstanding flaky bun with rhubarb and hazelnuts …

Today's breakfast was a flaky bun with rhubarb and hazelnuts. I'm loving all the buns here.

… and an excellent kardemummabulle (shh, I prefer cardamom buns to cinnamon buns).

A final kardemummabulle. I do prefer the cardamom ones over the cinnamon buns. I'm gonna miss your bakeries, Sweden.

And I discovered the mandelbulle (almond bun) sold at Bröd & Salt, another bakery chain found throughout Stockholm. Imagine that cardamom dough rolled up with frangipane, sliced and then topped with a biscuit topping with lots of whole almonds. Yes, it was amazing.

My big Swedish discovery - the mandelbulle (almond bun). It's like a cross between a cardamom bun and a cinnamon bun but rolled with frangipane and with a biscuit topping with whole almonds. ❤😚

There were even visits to two bakeries in Skansen! There was first the village bakery that actually does sell its wares still to the public.

Bakery

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I purchased a delightfully homemade looking kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) and munched that happily as I continued with my visit.

Kanelbulle

Then there was my favourite – the bakehouse. Here is where the famous Swedish flatbreads are baked for keeping throughout the year and being baked that day was tunnbröd (thin bread). Apparently the traditional version would be baked very dry and the soft versions available at supermarkets (and frozen at Ikea) are fancy modern thin breads.

Bakehouse

There was a proper demonstration of how the dough was rolled out and pricked using the textured rolling pin …

Inside the Bakehouse

… and then baked in the wood-fired oven.

Flatbread Oven

And when it came out, there was butter to slather onto the hot bread… it was excellent!

Tunnbröd

I loved Stockholm! I loved its food and its beautiful surroundings and its flowers and everything. I’m hoping to visit again in the future, bringing Blai with me this time, and he’s keen to go too after seeing all my photos. Thanks to everyone who sent information about Stockholm, its restaurants, and Eurovision, which was on the weekend I was there!

As is usual, all my Stockholm travel photos are sitting in a dedicated Flickr album.

Right, this might be the quickest I’ve ever written anything up. But at lunch yesterday, I got to try the street food purveyor Bian Dang, specialising in Taiwanese lunch boxes (the name means that in Mandarin). I actually sought them out when they came yesterday as part of KERB Paddington – when I heard someone was serving Taiwanese lunch boxes, I knew I had to try it! I loved the lunchboxes that I’d tried in Vancouver (I’ve not been to Taiwan) and I adore Taiwanese pork chops.

Anyway, for £7.50 I got The Beast – a lunch box with everything. Everything was their usual rice, minced pork sauce, stir fried vegetables, pickles and half a slow cooked tea egg topped with all their available toppings: fried pork, fried chicken and fried oyster mushrooms.

The Beast from Bian Dang at KERB Paddington

This was brilliant. Of particular note were the fried oyster mushrooms – these were the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had – and the slow cooked tea egg. But everything in box was excellent. It’s definitely worth trying them out!

Bian Dang
At various locations. Keep track of where they are with their Twitter feed.

We stopped for tea that first afternoon after our time in the Musée Picasso in the 3eme and as we were nearby, I dragged Blai to Jacques Genin’s shop. The one on rue de Turenne has a small salon de thé where you can taste his famous chocolates and caramels as well as pastries. His other shop on the other side of the river is just that – a shop.

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We settled into a sofa in the lovely air conditioned room. There’s a menu but the waitress also rattled off the various flavours and other pastries also available (and I believe they are made in the laboratory upstairs). We chose a chocolate millefeille that would be put together a la minute. This was one excellent millefeuille.

Millefeuille de Chocolat

Coffee for me and a citron pressé for Blai. The chocolates they provided with the drinks were utterly amazing. Seriously, just get them.

Chocolates

We bought a couple of his caramels to takeaway (look at the cute little bags they have for small numbers of sweets) and ate them about an hour later. By that time, they’d softened in the heat in my bag to possibly a perfect texture – they were utterly luscious.

Caramels

I only wish I could have brought back more but the very hot weather prevented all of that. Here’s a good tip: this salon de thé is open on Sundays.

Jacques Genin
133 rue de Turenne
Paris
France

The second day saw us wake up again stupidly early but that meant we could get to Russ & Daughters Cafe before 9am on Sunday for breakfast (no bookings are taken). There we were served by a very serious young man who declared that everything we selected was a “good choice”.

Coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice were necessary to get our internal engines going.

Coffee and Orange Juice

Are kasha varnishkas a typical breakfast food? Probably not but when topped with a poached egg, it sure felt like one. This Jewish-Ashkenazi dish of buckwheat and pasta and caramelised onions was supremely comforting with its butter and possible schmaltz.

Kasha Varnishkas

We also split a Classic Board – Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, capers – all served with an everything bagel (“Good choice!”). The salmon was excellent and I loved their bagel.

The Classic Board

By the time we left, the place was packed and people had started queuing for a table. Yeah, get there early.

A short stroll away was Economy Candy, the legendary candy shop that’s been going since 1937.

Inside Economy Candy

What a fun place this is! The proprietor asked Blai if he was taking me on a first date there (apparently that’s common) but when I explained that we’re not from around there, he quipped, “I could tell – you’re here early!” True that! It wasn’t even 10am then! We ended up leaving there laden down with goodies.

We then caught another 6-train up to the upper east side (we got very familiar with that subway line) and spent the rest of the morning at the Frick Collection. If you get there between 11am and 1pm on Sundays, it’s pay what you like. It’s a fine little collection that’s definitely worth seeing!

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For lunch, we headed to the branch of Luke’s Lobster that’s nearby. We split a lobster roll, …

Lobster Roll

…a crab roll, …

Crab Roll

… and a side of their Boston clam chowder.

Clam Chowder

It was fantastic. Those buttery toasted rolls were chock full of shellfish with just a tiny bit of mayo and a sprinkle of something heavy on celery salt. Fabulous. I’d never seen Blai so enthusiastic – he demanded, demanded!, that we return on his last day in the city. Seriously, I can count on one hand the number of times he’s demanded some particular dish and this was almost shocking! But they are worth the enthusiasm!

And then it was onwards to the Guggenheim. While the building was quite spectacular, as was most of their permanent collection, we were disappointed that one main gallery was closed and that most of the space was dedicated to a major exhibition by On Kawara. Now, Kawara’s work is interesting as a concept but seeing a lot of it there (and it’s quite repetitive) got tiring after a while.

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After our time at the Guggenheim, the warm weather had us thinking about gelato and we took the subway back down to the East Village and headed to A.B. Biagi, which I’d heard had some excellent stuff. The shop was much smaller than I expected (there were only three seats inside) and the menu was equally tiny (maybe about 5 flavours that afternoon) but what we tried (lemon sorbet, chocolate and pistachio) were all excellent.

Gelato - Lemon, Chocolate and Pistachio

Somewhere in between gelato and dinner was another subway ride down to Battery Park to bask in the sun and peer out at the Statue of Liberty and a long walk back to the subway as a few stations were closed around Wall Street due to filming of some movie. Ah, New York!

Dinner that night was back near Chinatown on Canal Street at Pies ‘n’ Thighs.

Three pieces of fried chicken made up their Fried Chicken Box and on the side, we had a lovely refreshing green salad. The chicken was excellent – moist on the inside, seasoned goodness on the outside. Oops, I think a piece of chicken was already missing from the plate when I took this photo.

Fried Chicken Box with Green Salad

And there was a biscuit on the side. I miss biscuits so.

Biscuit

We also split a chicken biscuit. This chicken breast had been coated in a crumb coating and was slapped between a biscuit with lashings of honey butter and hot sauce. Mmm… honey butter and hot sauce. Excellent stuff.

Chicken Biscuit

We couldn’t leave without a slice of pie! Here’s their apple pie a la mode, which was just ok. The crust could have been flakier and the apples cooked a little longer.

Apple Pie a la Mode

And that was our second full day in the city. When I look back at it, butter seems to have been the running theme throughout the meals.

Russ & Daughters Cafe
Russ & Daughters Cafe on Urbanspoon

Luke’s Lobster
Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon

A.B. Biagi
A.B. Biagi on Urbanspoon

Pies ‘n’ Thighs
Pies-n-Thighs on Urbanspoon

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.

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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.

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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.

Cafe Canuales

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.

Escudella de galets i tall de pilota

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.

Rossejat de fideus amb trompetes de mort, llagostins, sèpia

They forgot our salads (service was a bit shaky) but an inquiry ensured that they arrived on our table.

Amanida

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.

Xai del Ripollès a la brasa

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.

Bacallà amb salsa de tomàquet natural i panses

Desserts were pretty good if on the sweet side. Flam was homemade and executed well.

Flam

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!

Iogurt amb salsa de gerds

Can Canuales
Plaça Gran, 20
17500 Ripoll
Girona, Spain

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.

Xocolata amb Melindros

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.

Pastry with Cabell d'Angel

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!

I forgot to share this photo of moixaines from Ripoll. The name translates to 'caresses' and they are wafers filled with a hazelnut and almond paste.

Pastissería Costa
Plaça Sant Eudald, 7
17500 Ripoll
Girona, Spain

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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.

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