Things have been busy and I’ve not been particularly keen to open my laptop to write posts once I’m back home. But I thought I’d give myself a kick today and post a recipe I made last night. Nikujaga!

That’s Japanese for ‘meat and potatoes’ and it’s a very common, very simple dish that’s served with rice. Due to its sweetness, it’s particularly popular with kids … and we like it too! Everyone seems to have their own ratio of soy/sake/mirin/sugar and I saw sugar amounts that ranged from 1 tbsp to 4 tbsp for the same amount of meat and potatoes. I went with my gut and the ratio below is what worked for us.

For the thinly sliced beef, to get it fresh, you’re likely to need to visit a Japanese or Korean shop that sells fresh meat. I find a good source of thinly sliced meat is also the frozen section of Chinese shops as the thin slices of meat are frozen in rolls, ready to go into hotpot. I cut them in half and in they go into my pot directly. Easy.

Nikujaga (with a red spoon)

Nikujaga
Serves 2-4 (depends if you have other dishes)

1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
200-250g thinly sliced beef (I use frozen like you use for Asian hotpot)
1-2 large potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small carrot, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise
500 ml water
3 tbsps soy sauce
3 tbsps sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp demerara sugar
1 scant tsp instant dashi
A handful of frozen peas

Heat a medium sized pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Add the onion slices and saute until just started to get translucent. Add the beef and continue sauteing until the beef loses all its red colour. Add the potatoes, carrot, water and seasonings, stir well and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, partly cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Scatter over the frozen peas and continue cooking for another five minutes before turning off the heat.

Go ahead and leave the dish to soak up the flavourful liquid until mealtime (it’s now a good time to make anything else you’re having for your meal!). Serve with hot white rice.

(Konnyaku noodles are apparently great in here too and if you don’t have peas, green beans work too.)

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!

You’ll already have heard loads about Padella, I’m sure, but here’s my two cents (pence)! The hype is indeed valid for Padella next to Borough Market – their pasta dishes are fantastic. On a not-so-recent day off a month or two ago, I met my brother there and between the two of us, we split three pastas (most everyone else seemed to be splitting a starter and then having a pasta each).

Their famous pici cacio & pepe (£6.50) lived up to expectations! The thick, chewy pici were coated with the unctuous mixture of cheese and pepper – fabulous.

Pici cacio & pepe

Likewise, there’s quite a following for their pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu (£8.50). I’m a sucker for a good ragu and this was excellent.

Pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon (£12) was wonderfully fresh and the only thing that could have improved it would have been to be having it al fresco by the sea. I loved the different pasta shapes and the way they’ve been thrust into the spotlights here – I definitely don’t recall seeing pici anywhere else, for example.

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon

Even for a weekday lunch, we had to queue but the restaurant is bigger than I expected so it was only a 10 minute wait for the two of us that day. I’m not sure what it’s like on a weekend. Oh, and the menu does change from time to time!

Padella
6 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TQ

I’m not entirely sure why we’d not yet been to Karnavar on South End, Croydon’s restaurant street. It’s a more upmarket Indian restaurant and I think we were going to save it for a special occasion. Well, that is, until I discovered they have a spectacular deal for Sunday brunch – five courses for £25, or £40 if you want a champagne brunch, for a massive Indian style roast brunch. The menu is an Indian twist on the Sunday roast lunch but also features classics from their usual a la carte menu, making it a good first visit. We went one recent Sunday when we felt yes, brunch and yes, Indian food, and loved it.

Here we go. Five courses.

Chef Cooking Station and Starter Table

Course 1: Chef Live Cooking Station.
The station was placed at one end of the starter table (photo above). From here, you could place an order (or lots of orders) for freshly made dosas, oothapams, Indian omelettes, or Indian scrambled eggs. We shared a plain dosa (made small, just the right size for a buffet) and a beautifully made Indian omelette. We only realised after our meal that the chef manning this station was the chef-owner – he was just the friendliest!

Indian Omelette

Course 2: The Starter Table.
On the table by the window, there was a good spread of various dishes from which to help yourself. My particular highlights were the Roasted Dokla with Home Cured Sardines and Potato Salad, the fantastic Karnavar Special Golden and Candy Beetroot Chaat with Goji Berry and Moong Bean Sprout, and the Dahi Wada (Black Gram Dumplings with Yogurt, Mustard and Cumin). Take your time over them… it’s a leisurely brunch and you’re welcome to graze for as long as you like.

Starters

Course 3: Intermediate.
This course was brought to your table by a waiter wielding a massive frying pan full of Tulsi Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka. Both were very spicy and flavourful and I probably could have put away a lot more if I hadn’t been worrying about what and how much was coming next.

Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka

There was also a separate pan full of Salmon Pakora with Sweet Curry, Capers and Gherkin Sauce. This I loved, definitely putting away a few more than necessary – that sauce was like a fantastic Indian tartar sauce.

Salmon Pakora

Course 4: Mains.
Then it was time for mains. Each diner gets to choose one of the mains from the list but they can have as much of that protein as desired. My Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce was fine but Blai’s Sea Bass Polichathu, Kerala Coastal style served with Mappas Sauce was finer. I think I had been hoping that the pork belly was spiced itself but most of the Indian flavour was from the onion sauce served alongside. Blai’s fish was exactly as I’d hoped for, all dusted with spice.

Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce

Sea Bass Polichathu

It’s not a roast dinner though without all the sides! Garlic and fennel seed spiced roast potatoes were tender and delicious. Vegetables were an addictive Cauliflower thoran (addictive), an excellent Chef’s seasonal vegetables, which that day was Broccoli do pyaza, and my typical Indian meal must-have, Panchmel dal (think tarka dal). Carbs were a Saffron pulao rice and Butter naan (very buttery!). Like the mains, you could get more of the sides you desired. You can imagine how stuffed we were by the end of this course!

Sides

Sides and Naan

Dessert was a tasting plate of (from left to right) Rasamalai (Indian Milk Cheese Dumplings with Pistachio), raspberry sorbet, and Kinnathapan Malabar (Rice and Coconut Pudding with Lemon Sorbet). I do believe this is the only course you cannot repeat but the little sweet bites were the perfect size after we’d stuffed ourselves from the previous four courses. Actually, no, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want another of the amazing rasamalai, some of the best I’d ever had.

Dessert Platter

Bookings are essential for Sunday brunch (it’s very popular) and can be made via their website. What I noticed was that the food was highly spiced and flavourful but not chilli-hot, making it perfect for families, and there were a lot of families that Sunday. Needless to say, go hungry! Oh, and if you’re a vegetarian or dining with vegetarian, there are vegetarian options for the more meaty courses (vegetarian but not vegan).

Karnavar
62 South End
Croydon
London CR0 1DP

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