Travel


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 …

Untitled

… and then the Roman Agora.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

Untitled

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).

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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

Untitled

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…)

Untitled

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!

Untitled

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

Okonomiyaki in Barcelona! Yes! To my knowledge, Rio Teppan (in Gràcia) was one of the first places to specialise in this Japanese treat and I happened upon it a few years ago. It’s now very popular and we finally got to try it this year. Luckily I insisted that Blai book a table for that lunchtime – the place is tiny and bookings are truly essential for lunch or dinner; many people were turned away whilst we were there. Oh, and FYI, there’s no menu del dia there, just the a la carte.

We started with a plate of karaage which turned out to be tasty but unlike any other karaage I’d ever had. This version was battered rather than coated with the usual flour/starch.

Karaage

The real strengths were, of course, in the dishes cooked on the teppan in the back – there are even seats right by it for you to see all the action. An omusoba was delicious and not drowned in sauce. The omelette wrapping the yakisoba was thin and clearly very carefully made.

Omusoba

Our okonomiyaki was also clearly made with care and again was not topped with crazy lashings of sauce. The cabbage was finely chopped in the mixture and the whole thing didn’t feel as coarse as some okonomiyakis I’ve had in London. I’d go so far to say that this okonomiyaki was definitely better than any I’ve had in London! I really need to go back to try their Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, made in layers with one of noodles.

Okonomiyaki

For dessert, we split a homemade strawberry ice cream mochi which was fine. We probably wouldn’t bother with this again as usually these homemade mochis end up rock hard during freezing. Our problem, not theirs.

Strawberry Ice Cream Mochi

Highly recommended but just remember to book in advance!

Rio Teppan
Carrer de Minerva, 6
08002 Barcelona

There’s a restaurant in Gràcia called La Ceba (The Onion) which specialises in truites – the Catalan word for Spanish tortillas. Their main menu lists truites made with many ingredients, some of which you perhaps cannot imagine in an omelette, as well as other Catalan dishes. We ate there one lunchtime this summer and ordered off their more expensive menu del dia (they have a cheaper one as well – and it also looked good) at €13,80 each. Service from the off was…well, off. The servers were ill-tempered and rushed off their feet at the lunchtime crowd. They seemed to hate our (the diners, any diners) existence. That said, the food is fabulous so perhaps someone’s happy in the kitchen.

A torrada d´escalivada, formatge manxego i anxoves gratinada was a large slice of toast topped with lots of the Catalan grilled vegetables, melted cheese and anchovies. While simple, the toast was delicious in its simplicity and generosity.

Torrada d´Escalivada, Formatge Manxego i Anxoves Gratinada

We had to have a truita, of course – here was a truita de carbassó i patates (courgette and potato). Excellent. It wasn’t overcooked and had just the right egg to filling ratio. Its perfect size inspired me to go out and buy a pan that’s just that diameter (I bought it and it’s great!).

Truita de Carbassó i Patates

I had seen a hamburger go to a neighbouring table and it looked great – we ordered one. This excellent hamburguesa amb ceba caramel.litzada (cooked to a perfect juicy medium) came with salad, fries, and that lovely large dollop of caramelised onions.

Hamburguesa amb Ceba Caramel.litzada

Our other second dish was the Catalan classic botifarra amb mongetes seques – a big grilled fresh sausage with cooked dried beans. Excellent and especially excellent were the beans, which had been fried a little after they had been boiled. Usually you just get boiled beans.

Botifarra amb Mongetes Seques

Notice how both were big, hearty meat dishes – we needed a break from fish after our time on the Costa Brava!

Desserts were an average flam

Flam

… and an amazing pastís de formatge (cheese cake) that Blai says was the best he’s had in the city.

Torta de Formatge

So yeah, hopefully it’s not always this grumpy in the restaurant as they’re putting out some terrific food. I’d love to go back in the evening to try one of their many other truites.

La Ceba
C/ La Perla, 10
Barcelona

The bus to Cadaqués was the most nerve-racking, white-knuckle bus ride we’ve ever had. Our bus driver was going a little faster than we would have liked and he zipped around the corners, hugging the dry cliff edge and occasionally having to back up to let a car pass. We emerged into the Cadaqués sun breathing hard and feeling more than a little woozy. It felt good to dump our things at our hotel and take in the fresh air with a stroll around town and by the sea.

Untitled

Untitled

Casa Blaua

It’s a beautiful town! The former fishing village no longer homes fishermen but just tourists in the little whitewashed houses. Its difficult to reach location meant that the town has been protected from the tourist hotels you find further down the coast and has thus retained its charm. Apart from the sea, the town itself, clinging onto the hills of Cadaqués, is a beautiful setting in which to walk around.

Anyway, lunch time. We chose a restaurant close to out hotel: Can Shelabi, with its menu del dia. To start, excellent fried seitons (fresh anchovies) …

Fried Seitons

… and the salad of the day, which turned out to be some fantastically flavourful and garlicky esqueixada, a traditional Catalan salad of salt cod, tomatoes, onions and peppers.

Esqueixada

Now, this was a delicious tagine of sea bream but it’s the dish I’d most like to forget as a treacherous fish bone went down my throat and caused much anxiety. It was delicious but let’s go on to the next dish.

Tagine of Sea Bream

Grilled sea bass was served with white rice and tomatoes. Again, fresh and delicious but altogether a bit dry – a little sauce of some kind would have helped with the rice.

Grilled Sea Bass

We both opted for a simple banana with chocolate for dessert. While the banana could’ve been riper, the chocolate sauce was gorgeous, dark and not too sweet.

Banana with Chocolate

The afternoon was spent walking first to Port Lligat to see Dalí’s house …

Untitled

… and then finding ourselves another quiet beach to while away the late afternoon. We succeeded! Cadaqués is smack dab in the middle of the Parc Natural de Cap de Creus and the water was even clearer here with lots of fishes and crabs and sea anemones to ogle. Next time though we’ll need to get some shoes that’ll ensure our feet aren’t cut by the rocks.

Our Favourite Beach

We hadn’t planned anything for dinner and just went off in search of a nice place that had space. That place turned out to be Mut and we only had to wait a short while for a lovely table outside, facing the sea. We shared a number of plates with drinks: escalivada with goat´s cheese, …

Escalivada with Goat´s Cheese

… more seitons, this time in vinegar, …

Seitons

… and a Catalan classic of pa amb tomàquet with anchovies. Perfect. Everything here was excellent.

Pa amb Tomàquet with Anchovies

Cadaqués by Night

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and spent the morning strolling around more of the narrow whitewashed streets of Cadaqués and then finding our own little rock on which to perch and dip our toes into that crystal clear water.

Untitled

I had taken notice of a promising looking restaurant earlier that morning and we returned there – Can Pelayo – for lunch. Blai’s sardines were again fresh and fantastic (as you can imagine, when we returned to Barcelona, we took a break from fish).

Sardines

My gazpacho was exactly what I wanted, cold and refreshing. 

Gazpacho

Our shared fideuà looked spectacular and was fine; it didn’t have the same wonderful seafood flavour of the paella we had in El Port de la Selva though. Still, a fine eat and certainly a good deal as part of a €15 menu del dia.

Fideuà

There was dessert too – watermelon and crema catalana. Service was a bit of a mess when we were there though but it was laughable rather than stressful. Hopefully things will improve!

After lunch, we caught a bus to Figueres – ok, it’s not exactly the Costa Brava but it is part of the Dalí Triangle (the third and final vertex being the Gala Dalí House that is Púbol Castle). It was about 5pm when we arrived in Figueres and it was the perfect time to see the Dalí Theatre-Museum as there was no queue for tickets.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

There was even a little time to see the small collection at the Museu de l’Empordà, where we were delighted to find a couple of original capitals from the monastery we visited while we were in El Port de la Selva. After that, it was onto a Rodalies train again, back to Barcelona (delicious pastries were purchased for our train dinner).

We loved the Costa Brava! If you’re planning a trip there, I can highly recommend the official website of the region as I turned to it often. All photos from this little trip of ours can be found at this Flickr album.

Next Page »