Travel


There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gràcia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somodó and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly recited the choices for that day’s menú del dia to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mató was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mató Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s €20 for the menú del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somodó
Ros de Olano, 11
Gràcia
Barcelona 08012

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!

I was up in Manchester at the beginning of this month for work. There were two nights, a presentation, and walks here and there throughout the city as I made my way from the conference venue to my Travelodge room. Here were the highlights for me.

There was lunch the Thai supermarket Siam Smiles (48A George Street, Manchester M1 4HF), where I had a large plate of khao kha moo (the sweet and salty stewed pork knuckle with rice) for £9.50. There was hot and sweet Thai milk tea too.

Hello, Manchester! My khao kha moo at Siam Smiles (I read the @marinagpoloughlin article on the place!).

A visit to the John Rylands Library was a necessity as I have a passion for libraries and I was not disappointed!

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The Victorian building was utterly gorgeous and I only wished I’d had more time in there. If you do stop by, make time to have a peek at the working original loos in the basement!

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The Christmas markets woven through the city streets were exceptionally charming, lending a festive air to the quiet city. There were plenty of stalls from the European continent as well as more local treats. I wished I had more space to sample the boreks I saw at one stall.

I'm loving Manchester's Christmas markets!

The Mancunian specialty I wanted to try was rice and three and I chose to have it at Kabana (52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP). For £6, I could choose from the curries of the day; my choices were lamb, keema and potatoes, and channa. The food isn’t highly spiced but is very comforting with lots of fresh ginger and coriander. You won’t leave hungry!

Rice and three at Kabana

From a tip from a kind man at the John Rylands, I made my way to Chetham’s Library for a free tour just prior to catching my train back to London. This library is the oldest public reference library in the English speaking world and is part of Chetham’s School (specialising in music). The library dates from the 17th century but is housed in a building dating from the 15th century.

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There was first a glimpse at the freezing cold but impressive medieval hall with its humongous fireplace.

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The library itself is upstairs and looks like something out of a certain fictional wizarding school. It’s such an important bit of history and I’m so glad to have seen it.

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And that’s the very short report of how Manchester fed me and charmed me this festive season!

I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since I first visited Greece. This time I was there for almost a week – Saturday night to Thursday night – and it was mainly for work. And this time, the quality of the food we had everywhere really made a big impact on me; I came back to London thoroughly missing the food and the weather.

I arrived at my hotel at about 9pm on the Saturday night and after dropping everything off in my room, headed straight out again for nourishment. Nearby to my hotel is Ravaisi, a souvlaki place with outdoor seating (packed) and a long queue for takeaway – promising signs indeed! At €2 for each sandwich, I thought things would be petite and hence ordered one pork gyros sandwich and one of chicken too. They were huge – each the size of London burritos – and, of course, I couldn’t finish them. They were excellent though!

Gyros! At €2 each, I thought they'd be petite and hence ordered one pork and one chicken. They're the size of London burritos and they're fantastic!

The next day was a free day for me before work would kick in. The weather was beautiful and I spent the morning wandering around the Ancient Agora …

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… and then the Roman Agora.

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Lunch was at a suitably Greek time of 3pm and I headed over to Oineas, which seemed to have good reviews on Google. I wasn’t disappointed.

Al Fresco at Oineas

The restaurant had a good selection of meze and main courses and solo diners can still have a selection of meze by just choosing those that are offered by the piece. The cuisine is Greek but with a modern twist. Highlights for me were the incredible cheese pie made with kadaifi pastry and then sat in a pool of melted cheese …

Cheese Pie

… and this homemade little burger patty with a delicious spicy sauce.

Homemade Little Burger

My main course was a tender grilled calamari and homemade fries and its size did defeat me after all that initial cheese and meat.

Grilled Calamari and Fries

I thought I couldn’t fit in another bite but when a little slice of syrup soaked walnut cake was deposited on my table along with the bill, I tucked into that too!

Walnut Cake

That afternoon was spent at the National Archaelogical Museum, which is truly worth a visit if you have the time. The treasures within are indeed jaw-dropping.

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Dinner that evening was with an old friend I was meeting again after many years and he took me to spiti, an Italian restaurant in the outskirts of the city. Now here was where the locals eat! We split a couple of excellent salads. Here’s a tomato and caper leaf salad with a local cheese …

Tomato Salad with Caper Leaves

… and a refreshing salmon and avocado salad.

Salmon and Avocado Salad

My main course was a grilled croaker served with a little mound of Swiss chard and tomatoes and an excellent lemon sauce.

Grilled Croaker with Swiss Chard

We couldn’t fit any more after this, which was a shame as the food really was very good. I loved seeing another side of Athens.

On my first night after work, a colleague brought us to Efxaris, around the corner from Monastiraki station. Despite its super touristy location, our colleague had been brought there in the past by an Athenian and the restaurant was indeed filled with locals. Between 6 of us, we split a fine moussaka, …

Moussaka

… a ridiculous meat platter (grilled meat, more grilled meat, grilled chicken, grilled kebabs, gyros, etc), …

Meat Plate

… an equally ridiculous seafood platter (fried and grilled and boiled things galore), …

Seafood Plate

… a Greek salad (not pictured), and finally a couple mountains of Greek yogurt with honey. Prices were extremely reasonable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a place in the heart of the city.

A mountain of Greek yogurt and honey!

Sometime the next day, I discovered Greek spoon sweets, the jammy candied fruits traditionally served with a spoon to guests as a sweet welcome. These little figs were insanely delicious and I after this introduction, I bought a couple of jars of spoon sweets to take home and we’re enjoying them with Greek yoghurt at home.

Today I discovered Greek spoon sweets. These were little figs candied in lots of syrup. You eat them with a spoon and have them with Greek coffee. Sweet but delicious!

The second evening, another Athens resident referred us to Scholarchio, a highlight of my trip. Yes, it’s quite touristy but you do find locals there too and after our meal, my Greek friend did deem the food very good and the flavours correct. And best of all is the price – for groups, it’s €15 a head for a set number of dishes to share, mineral water, another drink (ouzo, beer, wine or soft drink), bread and dessert. To aid with selection of dishes (we got to choose 17 between 7 of us), the waiter brings a massive plate of the available prepared dishes …

The selection of meze at dinner yesterday! We had 17 dishes between 7 of us... 😬

… and also recites what can be ordered freshly made from the kitchen. You make your selection, start with what’s already ready to go, and wait for the rest of the dishes to be prepared. Let’s see, clockwise from the right in the photo below, we have giant beans, stewed pork in wine, dolmades in lemon sauce, and tyrokauteri (a fantastic spicy cheese).

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Let’s see, left to right below, we have fava (one of my favourite dips, Greek yellow split pea puree), tzatziki, taramasalata, and spicy pork sausages.

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More! Clockwise from the bottom: a new favourite – horta (boiled wild greens), another meat dish (beef?), meatballs in tomato sauce.

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It didn’t end there! The freshly fried stuff coming out of their kitchen was all excellent. Fried whitebait was crisp and non-greasy.

Fried Whitebait

Saganaki (fried cheese) was very popular at our table …

Saganaki

… as were fried aubergines.

Fried Aubergines

One of our other meat dishes was a tigania chicken, a sauteed chicken dish made with lemon and mustard. There was also a tigania pork with balsamic vinegar and honey.

Tigania Chicken

Courgette and feta fritters were also delicious if a bit salty; nothing a lot of tzatziki couldn’t solve though!

Courgette and Feta Fritters

There were other dishes too – too many to keep track of! I recall a Greek salad and fried courgettes and fried potatoes. And maybe another meat dish. How many is that already? Dessert was another slice of the typical syrup-soaked cakes I’d been seeing – this time orange.

Orange Cake

It’s a fun place to eat and to eat well too. I enjoyed working my way through an excellent spread!

On my last day, a quick trip to the supermarket about a 2 minute walk from my hotel ensured that my dried oregano supplies are now at their freshest. I also loved seeing the impressive range of feta and Greek yoghurt available!

Greek yogurt in Greece! #latergram

Before heading to the airport to catch my flight home, I also couldn’t help popping back into Ravaisi to get one last stick of pork souvlaki (they call each souvlaki stick kalamaki) – this was a perfect snack!

One pork souvlaki snack!

Ah, I really do miss Athens and all the amazing food I had there! One thing I did notice was how fabulous all the tomatoes were at all restaurants, even at the cheapest places. Actually, all the ingredients were top notch everywhere…this is some excellent Mediterranean cuisine! As usual, all my photos can be found in this Flickr album.

I had a flying visit to Bern in Switzerland for work back in August, just as they were having a bit of a heat wave. I hadn’t been to Switzerland for a while (my last and only visit was a day in Zurich) and I’d forgotten how expensive the country was (an old work friend from Oslo even claimed Switzerland was pricey!). Here’s how I whiled away my time outside work (with a day free in the city) and the relatively budget decisions I made with regard to food.

I flew into Basel and then caught a train to Bern. From the main station it was a short walk to my Airbnb flat – having a flat with a kitchen is a definite budget helper. I didn’t have time on this trip to do any proper cooking but it’s nice having a space for a morning coffee.

It was straight out again for dinner and I settled on a cute restaurant’s beer garden for my meal – this was Restaurant Beaulieu. My kind waiter talked me through the entire (Swiss German!) menu and I decided to have schnitzel with rösti (Bern is known for its rösti). Excellent stuff it was too. The schnitzel were thick, unlike the thin kind you get in Vienna, and with a good crisp coating. The rösti had been cooked with onions and bacon, never a bad thing!

First evening in Bern and it's gotta be rösti (with schnitzel)!

I somehow managed to fit in a lemon and yogurt mousse as well. Delicious. As it’s quite a casual place with a beer garden, prices weren’t too high.

The lemon and yogurt mousse with strawberry salad was calling out to me. 🍋🍨🍓 What you don't see it the lovely outdoor dining space.

It was only after my work days were over that I had time to properly wander through this UNESCO World Heritage city. Here’s the famous Zytglogge …

Zytglogge Again

… and the Alps in the distance. One of those is Jungfrau.

The Alps in the Distance

The old town is surrounded by the river Aare …

The Aare

… and it’s small but beautiful.

Town Hall

Dinner that night was with a friend at Lötschberg, a casual, contemporary Swiss restaurant with a seriously impressive wine selection, all on display along the wall. My friend’s Hausgemachte Rösti mit Speck und Raclettekäse was a large rösti topped with bacon and melting raclette cheese.

Hausgemachte Rösti mit Speck und Raclettekäse

My St. Galler Kalbsbratwurst, a very tender, finely ground veal sausage, was served with an onion sauce and more rösti. This was probably the most rösti I’d ever had in my life up to now – good thing I like rösti!

St. Galler Kalbsbratwurst IGP mit Zwiebelsauce und Rösti

A green salad with lots of honeyed sunflower seeds on top helped us feel a little better about all that potato! The restaurant is expensive by London standards but seems about normal for Bern.

Grüner Salat

The next day was my free Saturday in the city, the one I dedicated to some sightseeing. I was in luck! Not only were all museums in Bern free that day (something about it being August and too hot for most people to bother with museums) and there was a festival celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the train line between Bern and Solothurn. In addition to getting my photo snapped as a driver of a vintage train, there was freshly pressed apple juice for all.

Freshly Pressed Apple Juice!

The rest of my morning was then filled with a visit to the art gallery and then to the Zentrum Paul Klee, a beautiful Renzo Piano designed building set out in the outskirts of the city. The latter is definitely worth a quick visit if you can. (Of course, it’s a lot better when it’s a free visit…)

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I had purchased a takeaway sandwich from Migros, a supermarket chain, in the centre for lunch prior to catching the bus to the museum. This turned out to be the smart budget option!

Takeaway Sandwich Lunch from Migros!

It was back to the city and a quick visit to Einsteinhaus to see Einstein’s actual desk …

Einstein's Desk

… and a quick view of what must be my favourite fountain in Bern (there are many fountains – all beautiful and most featuring bears) – the Kindlifresserbrunnen. Yes, he’s eating children…

Kindlifresserbrunnen

I made a quick pit stop at the tea room of the Confiserie Eichenberger – iced coffee and a paper cake, the latter being a delicious chocolate sticky meringue baked in a slip of paper.

Paper Cake

Then it was a late afternoon spent on Gurten, the local mountain where the locals go for picnics and I go to ride the toboggan!

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It was another bus to the Rosengarten (rose garden) above the old city, with its fantastic views.

View from the Rosengarten

It was also goodbye to Bern’s resident bears in the Bärengraben. Yeah, poor things – it had been a very hot day.

Resting

That evening, along with a bit of takeaway from the station, I bought some meringues and double cream from Gruyère, the combination being a very typical dessert in Switzerland. I just placed a couple of meringues on my plate and dolloped this incredibly thick and luscious cream on top. The combination is indeed fabulous! (And yes, it’s cheaper to get these from the supermarket than to have the dessert at a restaurant!)

Trouble! I've bought meringues and cream for an entire family and it's just me here!

But that wasn’t the end of my travels for I had to travel again to Basel for my flight back to London. For my train ride, I picked up a brunch from Sprüngli, definitely one of my favourite patisseries in Switzerland. They’re famous for their little macarons called Luxemburgerli but not this time. This time I had one of their quiches (oh so buttery) …

Train Brunch from Sprungli

… and my first in Switzerland Bircher muesli. This was, of course, a particuarly luxurious version made with lots of fruit and cream. Fantastic! And we’re now obsessed with it.

Bircher Muesli

There was a rapid tour of the centre of Basel before my bus to the airport. Highlights included the incredibly red Basel town hall …

Basel Town Hall

… and the ridiculously cute Tinguely fountain. I’m glad I didn’t miss this animated fountain which brought a smile to the faces of everyone who saw it.

Tinguely Fountain

All my photos can be found in this Flickr album. I’m hoping I can go back one day with Blai to see more of the Alps in the region!

On our walk back home through Gràcia from our lunch at Rio Teppan, I happened across a restaurant whose name rang a bell in a good way – La Singular. We revisited with Blai’s mom later during our trip and it did turn out to be a great meal. Their €10 menu del dia is creative and brilliant, as evinced by the crowds but there are no reservations taken for lunch so either show up early or show up late to avoid a wait.

To feed the crowds quickly, I can see that first dishes and desserts are made in advance and just plated while second dishes are cooked immediately. Blai started with the Amanida de llentíes amb vinagreta de cumí (lentil salad with cumin vinaigrette). This was brilliant with the earthy cumin playing nicely with zingy vinegar and the equally earthy lentils. Cumin isn’t a common nor popular spice in Catalonia but it was used wonderfully here.

Amanida de Llentíes amb Vinagreta de Cumí

I already knew what I wanted for my first dish when I saw the paella of black rice when we entered the restaurant. Arrós negre amb all i oli was delicious with its squid and mussels and the aioli served with it was clearly homemade with a very light, foamy texture.

Arrós Negre amb All i Oli

Blai’s second dish of an Asian-inspired Ventresca de tonyina amb soja, algues i brots (tuna with soy, seaweed and bean sprouts) was extremely fresh and not too heavy. I loved its simplicity.

Ventresca de Tonyina amb Soja, Algues i Brots

My Cuixetes de pollastre escabetxades amb taronja i hummus de pèsols (chicken legs in a vinegar sauce with orange and pea hummus) was also excellent. The combination wasn’t one I’d ever come across – peas and orange – but by golly, it did work. There are certainly some good ideas coming out of that kitchen.

Cuixetes de Pollastre Escabetxades amb Taronja i Hummus de Pèsols

Desserts were of the very simple sort that I love for everyday. Pastís de pressec (peach cake) was a slice of a simple sponge embedded with chunks of fruit.

Pastís de Pressec

The winner though was a Mousse de mató amb coulis de fruits vermells (fresh cheese mousse with red fruit coulis), all light and fresh.

Mousse de Mató amb Coulis de Fruits Vermells

Definitely a winner, this one! I think the menu changes daily too and from what else I’ve read about the place, there is indeed a thread of Asian-influence running through the Catalan menu. As usual, I’m keen to go back for dinner one day!

La Singular

Carrer de Francisco Giner, 50
08012 Barcelona

My heart was broken when we found that one of my favourite bakeries in Barcelona – Forn Mistral – was closed for holidays in August. Alas, it was a good excuse to visit La Fàbrica Moritz – the former old brewery for the Catalan Moritz beer – which is now a multi-storey restaurant/bar/shop.

From what I can tell, the place is extremely popular – it’s huge and we did find the food to be excellent. The menu is just as huge – but on closer inspection, you’ll find some repetition in the ingredients and how things are put together. This is a good thing as giant menus tend to strike fear in my heart. Anyway, there are lots of little bites and big dishes too; we went with a mixture of tapas and Catalan classics for our dinner that night. There are even some Swiss specialties on the menu in honour of the founder of the Moritz brewery and some German dishes as it’s a brewery!

Croquetes crocants de pernil ibèric were priced by the unit and were exceptional, perfectly creamy and chock full of ham bits. All the frying here was done to perfection (and we are suckers for anything deep fried).

Croquetes crocants de pernil ibèric

El fregit d’Arenys was a mixture of fried monkfish nuggets and quartered artichokes, all served with romesco. Fantastic. (On a separate note, the fish and chips platters that went past us also looked excellent.)

El fregit d'Arenys

Braves d’aqui are their version of patatas bravas (the usual version is also available). This turned out to be the usual fried potatoes topped with aioli and, instead of the more common spicy tomato sauce, a spicy red chilli oil. Very simple and very good (though I think I missed the tomato sauce!).

Braves d'aqui

Coca de recapte artesanal lleidatana was a beautifully thin, savoury pastry topped with escalivada and preserved sardines. It was only as I took the photo that I realised that it looked like the Catalan flag!

Coca de Recapte

Desserts were entirely unexpected – some very creative, some very traditional – and all not the kind of things you see in the usual Catalan restaurants. Blai’s gaspatxo de pressec (the creative) was indeed a cold peach soup topped with a refreshing yogurt ice cream and drizzled with olive oil.

Gaspatxo de Pressec

My Orelletes d´Alacant (the traditional) turned out to be one giant crisp fritter! This sugar dusted piece of fried dough was thin and crisp and not unlike a Canadian BeaverTail (though thinner). There were some anise seeds embedded throughout and was served with a small glass of anis too. I loved this.

Orelletes d´Alacant

Well, holidays for Forn Mistral meant that we discovered La Fàbrica Moritz. It’s a good place for groups or picky eaters as you’ll definitely find something you like on the menu; when we were there, we saw a table of two couples happily tucking into just a ham sandwich each. They’re open from breakfast until late at night; their breakfasts look fantastic but I’ll need to drag myself out of bed for that one day! Personally, I do prefer the atmosphere at Moritz’s other restaurant at El Born but this place has great food too.

La Fàbrica Moritz
Ronda de Sant Antoni, 39-41
08011 Barcelona

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