About a week ago, I made my way across the city to Old Street – to Tramontina Brindisa – to feast (invited) at their first calçotada of the year. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s a Catalan celebration of the calçot, a long onion shoot that’s served grilled with a sauce made with peppers and nuts. Apparently it’s only in the last decade that the calçotada has become a big deal, even in Catalunya. The city of Valls is particularly known for their calçots and their calçotades (as well as their castells).

I’d never been to this particular Brindisa but I liked the slightly industrial style space – to my surprise though, I was shown through to the glowing red covered terrace out back. The red glow was due to a copious number of outdoor heaters turning a frigid January in London into a much warmer January in Barcelona!

There’s enough seating for at least 30, I reckon, and those heaters really did make things cosy.

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Now, in case you’d forgotten what the event was, the space was full of calçots and other Catalan vegetables not typically found in this city. Those dried chillies are nyoras, used to make the romesco sauce for the calçots. Do you recognise the tomatoes?

Catalan Vegetables

While everyone mingled and sipped on cava, we watched as head chef Leo Rivera started grilling the long onions over a portable gas stove – very handy! It does seem more convenient to bring out the portable butane rather than go to the trouble of charcoal whilst it’s cold and windy.

Grilling Calçots

We were then invited to find our seats (what beautiful table dressing!) and the calçotada started in earnest.

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Well, almost in earnest! First were a couple of less traditional calçot preparations that are currently featured on their a la carte menu. Fat orange stuffed olives were a nice tangy foil to rich tempura calçots, served with romesco.

Olives with Orange

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My preference was for the calçot croquetes, only because I really cannot turn down a croqueta. These large marble sized nuggets were perfectly creamy and oniony.

Calçot Croquetes

Before we got much further, Leo gave a demonstration on how to drink from a porró – a Catalan device for pouring a thin stream of wine directly into your mouth. Soon there was plenty of red wine splashing down everyone’s chests!

How to Drink from a Porró

Bundles of grilled calçots wrapped in paper were handed to us along with dishes of romesco sauce (or technically salvitxada, a thicker romesco sauce specifically for eating with calçots). After grilling, the calçots were wrapped in newspaper, allowing them to keep warm and steam a little, separating its layers.

Grilled Calçots

Romesco

Another demonstration! How to eat a calçot: Peel the charred layers of calçot skin off to reveal the tender, translucent slips of grilled calçot. Dip this into sauce and drop its length into your mouth from above. Oh, and ensure that your bib is on. I went through my pile in minutes.

How to Eat a Calçot

A massive platter of meat (to be shared between two) was then set in front of us. Grilled meats are the traditional second course after calçots; it seems natural to make use of the grill since you’ve got it fired up! Grilled botifarra (a Catalan sausage), presa iberica, lamb chops, and chorizo were accompanied by a grilled artichoke, roasted red peppers, a baked potato, plenty of toasted bread and aioli.

The Grilled Meats

Everything was of the quality we’ve all come to expect from Brindisa. Extra artichokes were brought out for us as well and I’m not ashamed to say that I managed to have an extra artichoke and an extra botifarra as well! (Botifarra are rare in London as the shops don’t tend to stock them as they perish quickly.)

For dessert, it had to be crema catalana! We were shown how a hot iron is used to burn the tops of the creams and then we stuck in. Brilliant – these were creamy and not too sweet, the sweetness provided by the crunchy caramelised tops.

Crema Catalana

It’s not too late to book a seat at one of Brindisa’s calçotadas – they take place on Saturdays and Sundays in February and March only at lunchtimes and at both Tramontina Brindisa and Morada. All the food plus a glass of cava is £35 per person. I can definitely recommend it; it’s a comfortable space and a calçotada is great fun. Book your calçotada here!

Thank you very much to Brindisa for the invitation!

Tramontana Brindisa
152 Curtain Road
London EC2A 3AT

I like fried chicken. No, I love fried chicken. And I’d been meaning to try Ma’Plucker after passing it one evening on Beak Street (ha!) and stopping in for just desserts – I knew I’d be back for their main menu and we got that chance one evening in late December. One or two of the tables were occupied that evening – perhaps its the bench seating in the front that encourages people not to linger too much after their meal. We grabbed a relatively quiet table in the back and contemplated their quirky menu. There’s a formula for their chicken meals: choose your chicken style, your carbohydrate or salad, and your sauce. There are other set chicken dishes available and sides too.

They had two or three flavoured iced teas available that evening and both those we tried (lemon and cranberry) were refreshing and tasted very natural. Thumbs up from us!

Iced Teas

We had to have some fried chicken of course and it was to be in the form of Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and a Waffle (£6). MP chicken skin gravy for this one. The fried chicken wasn’t exactly the buttermilk friedness that I was expecting (the coating bit threw me a bit) but y’know, it was pretty good fried chicken. Fried chicken. Yeah. The waffle already had some maple syrup embedded in it and with the savoury gravy, well, that went down a treat.

Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and Waffle

We also tried their Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken in a House Bun (£7.50 for 250g pulled chicken) with Kansas BBQ sauce. Surprisingly, this may have been the winner that evening. 250g of pulled chicken turned out to be quite a bit (a 150g portion is also available for the less greedy) but it was tender and delicious and the barbecue sauce included was very good.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken

We had Seasonal Greens and Fries (£4 and £3.50, respectively) on the side. Both were fine – the seasonal greens were lovely tossed in a slightly spicy butter but I wish they had been a more generous with the portion size.

Seasonal Greens and Fries

No desserts that evening but their cherry pie was lovely the first time we tried it while their apples and dumplings were alright in the past. It’s a good spot to pop into in the area, well, if you’re craving chicken of course!

Ma’Plucker
75 Beak Street
London W1F 9SS

Out of blue one day, Blai requested sushi. He hadn’t eaten it in a while and please could we go for nigiri sushi? That had me baffled as I think this was the first time he’d particularly requested nigiri and after a bit of searching, I originally thought of going to Wimbledon to try one well-known Danish sushi chain but scrapped that idea at the last minute when I found Hashi in Raynes Park. It was off on the trains there and a short walk from the station to the restaurant.

We managed to get a table without booking for Sunday lunch but it was very busy and I’ll probably book next time, just in case. One thing that immediately impressed me was our waiter bringing over two little white compressed towels in a little dish and pouring over hot water, causing them to expand. A hot towel each! I’m not sure when I saw that in London last!

And while waiting for our orders to be taken, we looked around and everything about the place and the service and the food reminded me of Kiraku, one of our favourite restaurants back in West London. Like Kiraku, there’s a variety of Japanese dishes on offer as well as good value set lunches (actually, the prices have gone up somewhat at Kiraku). We decided to split one set lunch and get a few things from the regular menu too.

After placing our orders, our teas arrived, looking all adorable in their little teapots.

Tea

Our dishes came in stages – here were the starters. Tori Kara-age (£6.90) was crisp and sitting in a thin sauce of ponzu and soy. Beautiful.

Tori Kara-age

The set lunch we shared was the Sushi Set (£14.50) and our seven pieces of nigiri were to come with miso soup, salad and two chefs dishes of the day (it’s a great deal at only 50p more than just the nigiri off the a la carte menu). The salad and two little dishes came out first – the latter were salmon and avocado maki and vegetable croquettes. All were just perfect.

Starters for the Lunch Set

Salmon and Avocado Maki

Vegetable Croquettes

Before our main courses came out, we were served miso soup. This would have been the soup we expected with our set lunch but since we were sharing, they very kindly brought out two – a nice touch!

Miso Soup

And then it was onto the mains. Here were the mixed nigiri that was part of our set lunch. Everything was wonderfully fresh and I liked the little extra touches – like the little bit of grated ginger on the tuna nigiri.

Sushi Moriawase

We had an order of Mushroom Medly [sic] (£7.00) as our ‘vegetable’. This mixture of shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, onions and peppers was brilliant, having been cooked in a sweet soy mixture.

Mushroom Medly

A Jun Special (£14.00) was a massive roll with eel, avocado, cucumber and a whole lotta other stuff. Again, excellent. There really was nothing to fault here.

Jun Special

To end our meal, we each got a beautifully presented half an orange which caused Blai to proclaim, “I’m going to cut all our oranges this way!” That reminds me, I’ve got to buy a bag of oranges.

Orange

Brilliant. This place is brilliant. Just go already.

Hashi
54 Durham Road
Raynes Park
London SW20 0TW

We’ve been eating so much Vietnamese food recently! We now have not just one but TWO good Vietnamese restaurants near us in Croydon and we recently visited the hotly anticipated Viet Food in Chinatown, the Vietnamese street food restaurant run by Jeff Tan, who used to be at Hakkasan. The address online listed Wardour Street and as a ‘hip’ new place, obviously I went in search of it down the cooler, hipper end of the street – I couldn’t have been more wrong! Eventually we had to backtrack and head towards Chinatown and there we found it…on the old site of a former, totally rubbish Vietnamese restaurant. Ha! Let’s see how this one would compare.

We waited about 5 minutes to get a seat and to hasten things, we agreed to share a table with another couple upstairs. Even with sharing, we certainly had enough space for all our dishes, though I had to swap seats with poor Blai as he could barely balance on his original tiny stool. Orders were coming out fast and the turnover was quick. Bookings are available as all the choice tables around the windows had all been reserved.

Our dishes arrived as they were ready. Our Coconut Calamari (£5) was very moreish – if you’ve ever had coconut prawns, then you can imagine this dish. Thick rings of calamari were coated with a crunchy coating with lots of dried coconut and the sweet chilli sauce served alongside was a nice complement. On the tables were a couple of other excellent homemade chilli sauces too – a red and a green – and both went well with….fried stuff.

Coconut Calamari

A Slow Cooked Haddock (£7.80) were two pieces of tender fish. I have no idea if they were slow cooked though… they were certainly tender…perhaps just cooked slowly at a very low temperature? The sauce was a slightly sweet, slightly savoury, mild brown sauce.

Slow Cooked Haddock

Our Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice (£5) was excellent, both chock full of ingredients and incredibly good. We’ve not yet met a Vietnamese fried rice that we didn’t like. We cleaned out this cute bamboo container.

Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice

Bun Thit Nuong (£8.20) was a bowl of bun (the Vietnamese rice noodles) topped with vegetables, herbs, pickles, and grilled marinated pork and grilled pork balls. The nuoc cham (the Vietnamese fish sauce dressing) needed a little more of a punch but overall, a very good dish that would be suitable for a one dish meal.

Bun Thit Nuong

Our Crispy Spring Rolls (£4.80) also arrived at about this time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly fond of this new style of very crunchy wrapper. I prefer the usual rice paper wrappers that fry up all light and crisp. The filling was also unmemorable.

Crispy Spring Rolls

There were two options for dessert: a sago dessert and a jelly. We went for the former, which was Pandan Sago with Caramelised Banana (£4). They served the generously sized portion between us with little bowls for us to serve ourselves. This went down a treat, all coconut milk and pandan and sago. The only dud were the bananas which had never been near any heat – no caramelisation anywhere.

Pandan Sago with Banana

Our bill (with a juice and still water) came to £44.90, which included a surprising 10% service charge (surprising because how many restaurants go lower than the usual 12.5%, eh?). It’s certainly not a bad spot in Chinatown and is much better than what was on the site previously.

Viet Food
34-36 Wardour Street
London W1D 6QT

I spent a couple nights for work in Glasgow last week and took myself out for a nice dinner for my first evening. A recommendation from Rachel was Crabshakk and rather conveniently, it just so happened to be located very close to my hotel. I had made a booking for my lone self and that turned out to be a good idea even on a Tuesday night; the restaurant was packed the entire evening with both reservations and walk-ins. It’s a small space with bar seating and a few tables on the ground floor and a few more tables upstairs. I think I went there expecting a rustic looking place (I mean, shakk!) but the place is surprisingly modern with a few vintage touches here and there.

I discussed the menu with the very friendly waiter and went with a mix of his recommendations and my absolute must-haves. We both agreed that instead of the usual starter-main meal configuration, I’d go with a selection of starters. The Tempura squid with soy and coriander dipping sauce (£8.25) was indeed excellent but I could have swapped this for something a little different. The portion was generous for a starter and many other tables were sharing one order.

Tempura squid with soy and coriander dipping sauce

Off the specials blackboard were my must try: Queenies with garlic butter (£8.50). These little scallops were cooked on a hot plate with all that butter and arrived bubbling furiously. I leaned back to avoid getting butter all over me! When the noise settled, I tucked in carefully – these were some beautifully tender little scallops. And what a bargain they were – there were plenty in that dish!

Queenies with garlic butter

Bread and butter (£2.25) was ordered to mop up the butter (just the bread without the extra butter spread on, of course).

Bread and butter

An order of 3 Crab cakes (£8.35) turned out to be these petite things. But oh, what crab cakes!

Three crab cakes

Look inside! These were just chock full of crab and there was barely any discernible binding ingredients. These were some of the most impressive crab cakes I’d ever had.

Inside a crab cake

And thank goodness too for that bit of salad on the side that helped refresh my palate a little. Maybe I overdid it with the bread and garlic butter.

I needed a bit of tea at the end of my dinner to wash down all that richness. My green tea came with a little bit of tablet which is not exactly ‘light’ itself! Whatever – it all went down the hatch as I adore the sweet grainy texture of tablet.

Green tea with tablet

Everyone was very friendly, not just in Crabshakk but in Glasgow overall! It’s a great city with lots of good eating (I had a good meal the next evening as well – but that was a work related one) and I’m keen to go back soon to see and eat more of it!

Crabshakk
1114 Argyle Street
Finnieston
Glasgow G3 8TD

I found myself back in West London the past weekend and met up with friends for Saturday brunch at Bush Hall Dining Rooms, the all day eatery next to the music venue that is Bush Hall. I used to live in the area (well, down the road in Acton) and it felt good to see the Shepherds Bush area again! Anyway, on a Saturday morning, it’s pretty easy to get a table though do book if you’re looking for a guaranteed spot after noon.

Brunch (well, ordered off a breakfast menu)! A friend’s eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup kept her quite happy though we do think that sourdough doesn’t make the best eggy bread. And personally, I would have preferred a plate rather than the chopping board.

Eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup

Eggs Benedict looked and tasted excellent – no complaints there. There was a very generous amount of ham!

Eggs Benedict

My chorizo jam, guacamole, fried eggs on toasted sourdough was all the savoury, creamy, eggy stuff I needed to get through the afternoon.

Chorizo jam, guacamole, fried egg on toasted sourdough

The only downside to their breakfast menu is the inability to order a side of potato product with our breakfasts. We had to wait until noon before we could finally get our hands on a portion of skinny fries which we proceeded to wolf down. No photos of that!

But then we could also get dessert. Between three of us, we split the autumn mess – a very pretty mixture of meringue, poppyseed and orange flower creme patisserie, oatmeal biscuit, mint tea jelly and cumin chocolate fudge. Perhaps the only dud in that list was the fudge, the cumin adding a little too much of an earthy note. The jelly was the big hit for me. But it was a fun dessert to eat!

Autumn Mess

I have visited in the past for dinner and can vouch for the deliciousness of their other dishes too. Service was a little lacking when the restaurant was empty and then very harried when full – they might want to look into that a little but otherwise, it’s a good casual all day eatery in the area. We never felt rushed and with free wifi and large tables, it’s a great spot to gabble away the hours.

Bush Hall Dining Rooms
304 Uxbridge Road
London W12 7LJ

I’d heard a lot online about Chen Ji in Barcelona. Strangely enough, we passed this restaurant a few years ago as we went shopping in a Chinese supermarket across the street; I was getting some ingredients for a dinner I was making, I think. I’ve already forgotten about what I made for dinner that night but I remember the restaurant; we got a good vibe from it…something about the way it looked clearly indicated that it wasn’t like the other Chinese restaurants in Barcelona. And that’s a good thing – some of the stuff in the city can be grim. There’s been lots of buzz about it online recently, all in Catalan/Spanish of course, and after showing Blai a few photos of the food, the restaurant shot up to the top of our must-try list. Dumplings! Hand pulled noodles! Cheap as chips! We settled on visiting one day during our holidays for lunch and brought along Blai’s brother too.

We found the restaurant in the middle of C/d’Alí Bei, the street running down a neighbourhood that is fast becoming the major ‘Chinatown’ of Barcelona. There are a few serious-looking restaurants and a couple of well-stocked Chinese supermarkets. Chen Ji has one of those narrow shopfronts that leads to a much larger interior with plenty of seating, all of which filled up when we were there for a weekday lunch. Most were locals, a few were tourists, and the split between Chinese and non-Chinese diners was about 50:50.

One popular dish at the restaurant is what’s listed on the menu as ‘xiao long bao’. These are like no xiao long bao I’ve ever had… if you’re not familiar with them, they’re those Shanghainese soup dumplings, thin skinned, filled with meat and soup and steamed. These were more like sheng jian bao, pan fried with their breadier skins and moist but less soupy insides. They were excellent and such a bargain at €3 for a portion of 9.

"Xiao Long Bao"

Their fried rice was excellent, one of the best restaurant fried rices I’d had in a while. With a little bit of chilli oil on the side, bam, good eating. This is miles better than any of the arròs tres delícies you’ll typically find.

Fried Rice

We had to order some hand pulled noodles too. They’re available in soups (for stupidly little money) and stir fried too. We went for stir fried with beef and vegetables, dry being easier to share than wet. The noodles had a good chew and were delicious – full of flavour and packed with ingredients.

Fried Hand Pulled Noodles with Beef and Vegetables

With the three dishes and a large bottle of water, the bill for the three of us was under €15. Bargain!

Their menu was full of dishes you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere in the city: various vegetables, fish dishes, offal. There’s even a menú del dia – three or four dishes from a hot buffet will be piled onto a divided metal plate (yeah, like a prison tray) and from what I saw, it’s a lot of food. We’ll be back!

Chen Ji
Carrer d’Alí Bei, 65
08013 Barcelona

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