Back we were in Catalonia for the summer! This time, to get away from the big city, we ventured north to the Costa Brava. In particular we aimed for two small fishing villages – El Port de la Selva and Cadaques – and it’s the first village that I’ll feature in this post. To get to the Costa Brava, many people drive but it’s entirely possible to do it by public transport; you just need to be aware of the timetables. We chose Cadaques as it’s known to be beautiful and we both had never been; El Port de la Selva was chosen for its size (tiny) and its beaches and culture (plenty).

Our first part of our journey from Barcelona was a Rodalies train from Passeig de Gràcia to Llançà – you can buy your tickets on the day, a few minutes prior to the train’s departure. It was a very pleasant and uneventful 2 hour ride to Llançà, where we emerged at a station hotter than the fiery depths of hell. It was hot. Llançà is a coastal town but away from the coast, where the train station is located, oof.

Exit from the station and walk straight out and continue walking straight, over the bridge and onwards until you come to a road perpendicular. Turn left here and you’ll find the town hall. Across the road is the bus stop you’ll need. We stood there in the sun, dripping with sweat, and gazed at the very nice bus shelter on the opposite side of the road for buses going in the opposite direction. Gah. Anyway, we caught the bus for El Port de la Selva – this is a local bus and it was a little late, according to its timetable, but you can’t complain when you’re paying €1,80 for the 20 minute coastal ride.

Another view of El Port de la Selva, just before we left for Cadaqués.

We entered El Port de la Selva just in time to check into our hotel, have a little wander and then find some lunch. There were plenty of restaurants in the village and many with weekday menus. We settled for a lunch menu at Ca l´Herminda, a restaurant operating in the village since 1963. Their lunch menu was €16,50 and the first courses were very good, like this salad with anchovies – I love Catalan salads as they’re always full of variety.

Sardines Salad

It was to be seafood for the second courses. A seafood pasta was creamy and chock full of garlic. Perfect for longtime married couples!

Seafood Pasta

More garlic was had with this fabulous hake with thick toasted slices of garlic. Everything was excellent, including the paellas we saw at other tables.

Hake with Toasted Garlic

Their desserts were simple but excellent – we shared a crema Catalana and a large chunk of cold fresh watermelon.

Crema Catalana

After lunch, it was all about finding ourselves a quiet little beach and there are plenty to choose from in the area, from big beaches to little coves. The water in the region is crystal clear and it’s within the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus; it’s brilliant for snorkelling. No real photos from our time there but here’s a view of the harbour and the monastery (the speck on the hill) as we walked back to the village.

El Monastir de Sant Pere de Rodes in the distance

It’s here I’ll mention that the village was perfect for our needs – there’s plenty to do but it’s not crowded like many other towns along the coast. Most tourists were French (France is a short drive away and Blai’s mobile even managed to connect to a French network while we were at the beach).

Dinner that evening ended up being at El Rebost del Pescador, a new tapas bar we happened to pass. When I discovered that it was linked to its neighbouring Confraria de Pescadors del Port de la Selva, a fishermen’s collective, I insisted on eating there! For did I mention yet? El Port de la Selva is still a fishing village. I was expecting great things and we weren’t disappointed.

We tried almost everything that was available that night. The waiter made a special effort to point out the sardines fumades (smoked sardines), here served on slices of pa amb tomàquet. They were indeed excellent, lightly smoky and meaty.

Sardina fumada

I also need to try their home cured anchovies – and this was the best anchovy I’d ever had, all plump and tender and not overly salty.

Anxova de la Confraria de Pescadors

A Pomada d´en Manu turned out to be a kind of tuna salad with onions. I know that doesn’t sound particularly exciting but this was just superb.

Pomada d´en Manu

A melt in your mouth tender, local octopus was served sliced on sliced potatoes; again, this was some of the nicest octopus I’d ever had.

Pop roquer de Cala Prona

We ordered more after seeing a plate of something intriguing at a neighbouring table. It was mackerel off a tasting menu (€35 per person, including a bottle of wine between two) but off the regular menu, we got sardines en escabetx. These cooked sardines were falling apart in a beautifully vinegary sauce laced with plenty of sliced onions.

Sardina en encabetx

I also ordered a pintxo of their seitó de la Confraria – their own cured fresh anchovies (or boquerones). Beautiful. And with that, we tried all the seafood; it’s just a shame that they had run out of the red prawns from the region.

Seitó de la Confraria

All this with a couple of drinks totalled about €30. Bargain. You can purchase their preserved fishes and other local products in the restaurant too. Highly, highly recommended.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we set off for our hike to El Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes – the monastery up the hill from El Port de la Selva. Our first stop was at a local shop/bakery where for about €5 we got a baguette turned into two sandwiches with freshly sliced chorizo and ham and cheese from the deli counter. We were not charged much more (if any more) than the cost of the baguette and the deli items by weight, and we got the bread rubbed with tomato in the Catalan way as well! Bargain! That was our picnic lunch sorted.

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The hike up was difficult, much more so than our hikes in the Vall de Boí – the distance was greater and the heat! The heat! If you’re going to do this hike, do bring lots of water to keep you well hydrated. We walked all the way along the harbour until we reached a campsite. From there we went through the valley, via a tiny village called La Vall de Santa Creu and then up to the monastery.

The Monastery!

We only saw two other hikers on our way up and three on the way down; it was hot. The majority of visitors to the monastery drove there and they all looked cool and fresh whilst we looked like sweaty rats. The monastery was well worth the hike though and the views from up there were incredible.

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If you don’t want to bring your own lunch, there’s a full restaurant and cafe inside.

We took a different route down, heading first to the carpark and taking the path down past the incredibly fortified Església de San Sebastià …

Església de San Sebastià

… and then the most beautiful village of La Selva de Mar. From there it was back to our hotel in El Port de la Selva. I read somewhere that the fishermen in times past worked in El Port de la Selva and lived in La Selva de Mar. The latter village was clearly heavily fortified against the many pirates that used to visit the region.

La Selva de Mar

Our final dinner that night in El Port de la Selva was at Monterrey, the restaurant that was owned by our hotel. While our hotel was located a little back from the coast, their restaurant was right by the beach, well, and a road. It’s a good position and we got an outdoor table with a lovely view of the harbour (reservations recommended).

We pushed the boat out when ordering (we deserved it after the hike!). First up, a snack of delicious fried xipirons, tiny little squids.

Xipirons

It’s only after this trip that I’ve realised that we ordered a lot of escalivada, here again with anchovies. We can’t help it – we love this Catalan grilled vegetable dish!

Escalivada with Anchovies

We couldn’t leave without sharing a rice dish between us – we chose the seafood paella, which was cooked more like a Catalan rice than a Valencian paella.

Seafood Paella

The grains of rice were a little undercooked and it was a little wet (hence the Catalan rice dish comparison) but overall the flavour was outstanding. There was plenty of seafood within and we finished the entire thing. Uh… no dessert for us then.

Seafood Paella

We did have a little walk to a local ice cream joint though – Gelats Artesans Galiana! I have no photos but their ice creams were fantastic and we went there both nights we were in the town. My favourite was their orxata sorbet but their pistachio ice cream was also excellent.

Thinking about this sorbet de orxata in El Port de la Selva.... #latergram

Overall, we ate very well in El Port de la Selva! Our second stop was Cadaqués – and that’s for the next post!

It was my birthday last month and I was particularly disorganised this year. Three days prior, I still hadn’t figured out how I would celebrate this now slightly depressing occasion. Noodles had to feature somewhere (symbolising long life in the Chinese culture) but didn’t necessarily have to be at dinner; I could scarf down a bowlful at lunchtime. Barbecue? Did I want meat? Comfort food? What was exciting in London? Somehow after a lot of googling and a lot of perusing lists, we fixed on A. Wong, the upscale Chinese restaurant in Victoria. The main thing was that it had space that evening. Noodles sorted then.

As I’d booked so close to the date at this clearly very popular and lauded restaurant, it was an early dinner for the two of us. And we sat in the dark basement – when I do return, I hope I get a table upstairs where it’s light and airy. Apologies then for the very dark photos.

Chilli oils, two of them, arrived at the table, both distinct but it was difficult to exactly figure out what was in them due to the lack of light. I think there was dried tofu in one and beans in the other?

Chilli Oils

We started with the fanciest prawn cracker I’d ever seen: the A. WONG Prawn cracker (£2.50), topped with various pickles and sauces and some fried ‘seaweed’ too.

A. WONG Prawn cracker

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables (£3.50) was a little cup of lovely delicate soft tofu all spicy and moreish.

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables

63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo (£5.95) was served with a smouldering cinnamon stick for some atmosphere… only ours wasn’t really smouldering and Blai grabbed it without realising that it was supposed to be a burning stick, almost causing me to scream. Yeah, more light was definitely needed. Apart from that, the egg was all melty and lovely on the crunchy filo nest.

63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo

I had heard that there was an element of theatre with the food here and it was most apparent with the Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad (£12). This didn’t exactly work down in the basement as we couldn’t make out what exactly was in the bowl. Pulled lamb, sesame seeds, what’s that chopped stuff? Is that salad? We piled everything onto the provided buns and tucked in. Tasty but not particularly special.

Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad

Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad

I really enjoyed a dish of Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole (£8) which came topped with a thin sheet of fried tofu skin. The flavours were strong and novel and went well with …

Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole

Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole

… a generously filled bowl of excellent Egg fried rice (£3). All the food up to this point had been very flavourful and we never needed to turn to the chilli oils on the table. However with the remains of the fried rice, the chilli oils proved to be fabulous.

Egg fried rice

The noodles! I had expected more noodles on the menu but there only appeared to be Singapore fried noodles and those that we ordered: Hong Kong tossed noodles with sea urchin butter and shrimp roe (£12). These very rich and buttery worms were served with a broth, like dry HK noodles typically are, and we were told to dip the noodles in the broth before slurping them. They also made a big show of sprinkling the shrimp roe on the noodles. Always one to break the rules, I ate the noodles and then drank the broth, HK style.

Hong Kong tossed noodles with sea urchin butter and shrimp roe

Dessert time! It was my birthday and there was no way this course was going to be missed! We went for the Taste of A. WONG desserts (£22), which was all of the available desserts (at a small discount). Now this is where I felt the restaurant really excelled.

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots came as two parts – a plate of the meringue shaped like a mandarin orange, filled with an ice cream and the granite and puree served separately in a tea cup. The waitress opened up a red packet and poured its contents onto our plate – lotus root crisps.

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots

The Tea smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate and caramel came as a chocolate sphere and this time our waitress poured on hot caramel from on high and yeah, sorry, the photo was taken after this. It all looks like a splodge. Oh, but it was a gloriously fantastic splodge of caramel goo and chocolate and banana puree and lots of crumble. Utterly fantastic.

Tea smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate and caramel

I liked the order in which they brought out the desserts. Coconut, white chocolate, strawberries, yoghurt and mochi was a refreshing plate of ices and textures.

Coconut, white chocolate, strawberries, yoghurt and mochi

Overall, the food was excellent though I didn’t need the extra steps/theatre involved with some of the courses. That said, I’m keen to return to try their dim sum. Upstairs on the ground floor. With light.

A. Wong
70 Wilton Road
Victoria, London
SW1V 1DE

I brought a friend to Smoking Goat on Denmark Street last month to finally try their food (it’s all about Thai-style barbecue here) and see what the fuss was all about. It did live up to expectations!

From the specials board, we chose a Grilled Pork Skirt with Nahm Prik Som (£13). This arrived first and I loved the hot and sour flavours throughout.

Grilled Pork Skirt with Nahm Prik Som

Fish Sauce Wings (£7) were, I believe, their version of the Pok Pok (hailing from Portland, Oregon) ones. These battered wings had been dragged through a sticky, umami-laden sauce and while they were good, I thought perhaps grilling the wings would have worked better.

Fish Sauce Wings

The Whole Cornish Mackerel with Nahm Prik Pao (£15) on their regular menu was recommended to us and it did live up to expectations. The oily fish is always excellent when grilled and the savoury nahm prik pao (like a chilli jam) worked well with the strongly flavoured fish.

Whole Cornish Mackerel with Nahm Prik Pao

For our veggies and to sop up all the wonderful juices and sauces, we shared an order of Som Tam Bangkok with sticky rice (£6.50). The salad was excellent and refreshing and they offered us plenty of sticky rice in little bags as the meal went on.

Som Tam Bangkok

Sticky Rice

For nonalcoholic drinks, I’d stick to their proffered pandan infused water; the flavoured waters we ordered off the menu weren’t particular interesting or worth the £3 or so. Overall, though, the food was indeed very good.

Smoking Goat

7 Denmark Street
London WC2H 8LZ

It’s now our second year with our little vegetable garden. The 10-12 square metres that we have to cultivate plus numerous pots seems to be the right amount for us to tend to during our busy week but there is an itch to rip up some of our lawn and grow more! What have we got this year so far? Five kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of hanging tomatoes (the Catalan tomacons), five bean varieties, broad beans, mangetout, three kinds of onions, leeks, three kinds of courgettes, two kinds of peppers, three lettuces, agretti, rocket, carrots, salsify, two kinds of chard, two cabbages, cavolo nero, kale, friarielli, mizuna, radicchio, sweetcorn, radishes. As you can see, I love variety! It means we get a little less a harvest from each type but that suits us just fine. And that’s in addition to our various herbs and our little fig tree in a pot.

Actually, seeing the list all typed out has me wondering how I managed to squash them all into our tiny garden.

Our mangetout and broadbeans have already come and gone but we got a good harvest from both from a very small space.

Today's harvest was, I think, our first proper one from this year's garden!

The plants have already been pulled up and have been replaced with purple climbing beans and dwarf borlotti beans, respectively.

A first for me this year are proper lettuces, not the cut and come again baby lettuce leaves that I find so limp. Give me a crunchy heading lettuce anytime! We’ve had lots of salads for a few weeks now, made from various mixes of Little Gem, Lollo Rosso, Tom Thumb, and wild rocket.

I'm loving our homegrown salads. Today we've got a mixture of little gem, lollo rosso, and rocket.

And there are additions to the salads in the form of sliced radishes or (our favourite while it lasted) sauteed mangetout.

A salad from our garden! I pulled a few small lettuces that were too close together - Tom Thumb and Lolla Rossa - and there were a few leaves of spinach too. And sautéed mangetout.

I should have been a little more disciplined with successional sowing to extend my harvest time but I did use up every spare space for radishes here and there!

I will soon be harvesting more of these sweet Walla Walla onions too. These onions are from the town of Walla Walla in Washington State and I remember hearing lots about them when I lived in Vancouver. They’re advertised as being so mild and sweet that you can eat them like an apple. I’m unlikely to ever go with that approach but we pulled up a small onion to slice into a salad and it is indeed oniony but without the horrific burn raw regular onions can have. I like them!

I'm very excited about my onions! These are the famous Walla Walla sweet onions, from Walla Walla in Washington state, grown from seed that was brought to me from Vancouver. I can't wait to try them - they're bulbing nicely so far.

Anyway, scenes from our garden in July:

The current state of one corner of our vegetable garden. I love the height and structure of the seeding spring onions (last year's).

Our back garden, mid-July 2016.

Our back garden, mid-July 2016.

There’s still a lot to wait for. I can see the beginnings of fruits and flowers on my tomatoes, peppers and courgettes.

Our back garden, mid-July 2016.

The beans are starting to produce.

Our first green beans!

The sweetcorn still has a lot of growing to do and I’m not sure the weather earlier this year has done it any favours. Of all the salsify I sowed, only three plants came out; oh well, it’ll be our first taste of the root! And despite being promised that it grows like a week, our pots of agretti aren’t doing very well, look a little stunted and have been attacked by aphids.

One thing I did add a lot of this year is flowers. I scattered seed here and there back in April and now we have been rewarded with violas, nasturtiums, cornflowers, marigolds, and cosmos (the last are yet to flower). Some calendula and my mystery tall flowers have also self seeded from last year. With the recent hot weather this month, they’re bringing the bees to the yard but unfortunately I’ve been seeing fewer bees than last year. Again perhaps the weather?

I’m quite chuffed with it all again overall. Things started off a little slow with the bad weather we’ve been having but eventually things got a little warmer and a little sunnier and the plants all took off. All of it has been planted from seeds and I’ll be going nuts buying even more varieties of seeds this year (for next year) too. Are you growing your own vegetables this year?

We were looking for some dinner in Soho and I had narrowed down a list of nearby restaurants to a few. From that list, Blai chose Bukowski Grill, which specialises in American grilled stuff, all cooked over charcoal on a Josper grill. It was our first time there and for some reason, in the five years that the original joint’s been open, it hadn’t really hit my radar. I’ve only just found out now that this Soho branch, their largest restaurant, only opened earlier this year.

I think it was the burgers on the menu that put me off initially – there seem to be a million burger restaurants in London and most are quite good. Bukowski Grill, thankfully, has other things on their menu as well and it was these that caught out eyes. We started with a nibble of Tasso pig cheek with pickled peach relish (£3.50). For the price, it was a generous little dish of pig cheek prepared as a hot spiced ham. In a weird way, it reminded me a little of a spicy char siu!

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

We felt we needed to order the highlighted 72 hour beef rib with tobacco onions (£12.25) – and we had no idea what to expect. It was certainly not this beautiful beast. This massive beef rib was fantastic, all smoky and tender, and equally magnificent were the tobacco onions, which turned out to be fried onion strings. Gnawing on the rib felt a little like being in the Flintstones.

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

A fried chicken thigh milk buttermilk waffle with green chilli maple syrup (£8.50), with a fried egg (£1.50) in our case, was also excellent. Can’t go wrong with chicken and waffles and the spicy syrup made this version quite unique.

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

We had some chips on the side as well but… no photo of that. They were chips. They were good.

A little sweet thing was exactly what we needed now. A salted caramel soft serve ice cream with peanut butter brittle (£3.25) was near perfect. I liked the salty caramel ice cream but the peanut butter brittle needed to be in smaller, more manageable pieces (and the best peanut brittle I’ve had has been the stuff from this shop in North Vancouver, BC, Canada).

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

I think what surprised me were the very reasonable prices for everything and all the dishes flying past us did look great – the milkshakes and, yes, even the burgers. It’s a fun little spot, with plenty of seating, and lots of Bukowski‘s NSFW poetry on the bathroom doors. I’m keen to visit earlier in the day too to try their brunch menu.

Bukowski Grill
10-11 D’Arblay Street
London  W1f 8DT

There are branches in Brixton and Shoreditch too.

What with all the flying out of Gatwick’s South Terminal in the last few months, I’ve had the chance to try Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store Cafe a few times already. I still haven’t tried the original restaurant at King’s Cross but I know there’s an emphasis on vegetables, without being a fully vegetarian restaurant. Healthy without being boring.

Our flight to Milan earlier this year was a morning one and we took the chance to eat off their breakfast menu. Bruno’s Power Breakfast was a small platter of eggs benedict, truffles, broccolini, grilled vegetable ratatouille with dukkah and avocado on toast. I loved the emphasis on greenery for breakfast and that avocado toast was excellent stuff. The only letdown was the hollandaise made without butter….without butter, it’s not hollandaise, sorry.

Bruno's Power Breakfast

Baghdad Eggs were fried eggs and spiced butter on salt-baked celeriac waffles. I don’t think I could detect the celeriac in the waffle batter but the combination was fresh and fantastic.

Baghdad Eggs

My flight to Stockholm was after work on a Friday, meaning that dinner was going to be a long way off. A selection of small dishes seemed like the perfect nibble – Thai minced chicken (this looked like larb in lettuce cups and was served with watermelon), a Greek-style dish of artichokes/tomatoes/cauliflower/mushrooms, and grilled aubergine with tonnato sauce. Everything was fine and just tasty enough. OK, nothing was spectacular but y’know, very good and very creative for an airport.

Small Dishes - Thai-style chicken, artichokes and tomatoes, aubergines.

Sweet potato fries were also ordered and were perfect. Extracting them from their plant pot was like playing a gustatory version of pick-up sticks though.

Sweet Potato Fries

Then the flight to Bordeaux (you would have thought I’d deliberately flown out of Gatwick South Terminal this year…) had me looking for a snack. I spotted the avocado toast on another table and ordered that…but with a side of bacon. The hipster snack was perfect – the avocado fresh and well seasoned. I didn’t need nor want the sliced onions on the side – onion breath is always a faux pas on an airplane.

Avocado Toast

The bacon was overcooked though and had turned into bacon jerky, just a bit too chewy for my liking. I’d skip that next time and uh…maybe get more sweet potato fries.

Bacon

Other dishes that looked good (as they whizzed past me) include their burgers, their salads, and their fish and chips. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s mostly healthy. I think it’s a great addition to Gatwick and possibly the best place to eat in Gatwick South. The only thing that would make it better is more reliable free wifi but hey, that’s just me.

Grain Store Café and Bar

Gatwick Airport
South Terminal

A recipe! I haven’t had one of those on here for a while! This curiosity comes from Sweden – after my return from Stockholm, I was reading about their cuisine in general when I came across korv stroganoff. Now I’m familiar with the beef in a creamy sauce Stroganoff but when I heard that the most popular variant in Sweden involved sausages and ketchup, well, I was all over it. As you’d expect, it’s a favourite meal of many Swedish children.

I didn’t have any falukorv, the baloney-like sausage typically used in korv stroganoff, and substituted an equally as processed sausage that can be found in Ikea at certain times of the year: prinskorv. The recipe was very simple to put together and provided you’ve got some white rice cooked, you’ll have your meal on your table in 15 minutes. Of course, it’s very mild (a little chilli powder wouldn’t be amiss) but it is certainly comforting. It’s also very rich and I’d certainly ensure you had a big ol’ salad and some pickles to have on the side!

Korv Stroganoff

Korv Stroganoff
Serves 2

200g prinskorv or falukorv
1 medium onion
1 tbsp olive oil
200 ml passata or canned chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp ketchup
150 ml single cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the sausage(s) into strips. Slice the onion likewise. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and then the onion, cooking then until they’re soft and translucent. Add the sausage strips and continue frying until they’re heated through and maybe even a little brown on the edges.

Add the passata and ketchup and stir through, letting it all bubble gently together for a couple of minutes. Stir through the cream and again, continue cooking. After a couple more minutes, season to taste and then serve hot on white rice. You’re going to want a big fresh green salad alongside!