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

It took us a month (mainly my fault) to find a date that would work for me, Krista and Mr Noodles to meet for lunch and we finally met up at Rex & Mariano on St Anne’s Court (on the site of a former Vodka Revolution and across from the Good Housekeeping Cookery School) a couple Saturdays ago. Mr Noodles had been rapturous about the place and we were looking forward to tucking into some very affordable seafood. And I’d not seen either of them for a while – it turned out that it had been 5 years since I last saw Krista! Crazy!

For a Saturday lunchtime, we’d made a reservation but the restaurant was much larger (and brighter) than I’d expected and also quite empty. It seems it’s like that on weekends – fine by me, I like the idea of dropping in for some impromptu seafood. Ordering was via iPads, one left at each table when you sit down (and swiftly whisked away at the end). This allowed us to order as and when we liked, controlling the order and timing of our dishes, as well as keeping a running tab of the bill. We ended up ordering two rounds of cold and one of hot dishes.

One thing about the restaurant is that you have to buy your own bread. A delection of homemade breads (£3) is four huge tranches of bread: a focaccia, white studded with garlic cloves, white, and wholemeal. Our favourites were the first two and at the end of the meal, our waitress told us to request the specific breads we wanted next time. Alright! And the breads also arrived with a little ramekin of tuna pate. Good stuff.

Homemade breads with tuna pate

We started with a seabass ceviche with coriander, yuzu, red onion, and tiger’s milk (nope, me neither) (£7.5). This was extremely moreish, with its citrus and mild onion tang.

Seabass ceviche - coriander, yuzu, red onion, tiger's milk

There was also an excellent tuna tartare with chilli and chives and sitting on a swipe of pureed avocado (£8).

Tuna tartare - avocado, chilli, chive

Second round! Raw red prawns (£10) were beautifully fresh and beautifully arranged.

Raw red prawns

To begin with, a salmon carpaccio (£7.5) looked like the cured fish had been hacked at with a blunt knife; actually it had been topped with grated tomato, lemon, olive oil and micro-basil. This was probably the weakest of the raw fish dishes we tried but still was very good. You can see from the menu that the raw fishes available were tuna, salmon and sea bass and by having different variations of them on the menu, I guess that’s how costs can be brought down.

Salmon carpaccio - olive oil, lemon, tomato, basil

Third round – hot food! Sweet little clams had been steamed with white wine, parsley and chilli (£7).

Clams - white wine, parsley, chilli

The red prawns made another appearance but this time cooked and drizzled with olive oil, dusted with salt and served with a grilled lemon half (£10). I think I preferred these cooked ones as there were more juices to suck up and mop up with the bread.

Cooked red prawns, olive oil, salt, lemon

Fritto misto had been well seasoned with old bay seasoning (£9) and was a massive portion. There was plenty of calamari, a couple of whitebait and lots of chunks of fish (yup, you guessed it – salmon, tuna and sea bass offcuts!). It was a huge pile of perfectly fried seafood for an excellent price – thumbs up.

Fritto misto - old bay seasoning, lemon, aioli

Fried courgettes with aioli (£5) were not perhaps the most thrilling of vegetable dishes (this is one that Byron does better). While the outsides were crisp, the insides were a bit too soft and mushy.

Courgettes - fried, aioli

But otherwise I love the place! I love that one doesn’t really have to queue, I love that the restaurant takes bookings, I love the seafood. Prices are very good though and we could even have done to order perhaps 2 fewer dishes for the three of us (we were rolling out of there). I’ll be back.

Oh, it’s probably good to mention that unless you like/love seafood, there’s really no point for you to go here – there are no meat options nor vegetarian ones.

Rex & Mariano
2 St Anne’s Court
London, W1F 0AZ

You can’t go to Boston and not have seafood and one of the hottest places in the city to dine on seafood is the highly lauded Island Creek Oyster Bar and I managed to get a table for 5 of us at 9:30pm one night. Island Creek Oysters is still a working oyster farm today and we even had some of their oysters at Myers+Chang – this restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, brought the farmer even closer to the diner.

Despite our making a booking though, we had to wait for almost an hour for our table as the restaurant ended up with more people than it could handle. (Actually, this seemed to be the case at all of Boston’s restaurants that weekend – there just seemed to be a huge influx of tourists in the city.) And we weren’t the only ones – we were all crowded at the entrance and the front of house did their best to calm the screamers (I’m not joking – there were some nutjobs waiting for a table too). When we were finally seated, we could see that the restaurant was larger than expected, curving round to the side, and that it looked great. And yeah, it was packed.

We ordered quite a few things and shared them all. We started with their Clam Chowder, made with hand-dug clams and house-cured bacon and a little buttermilk biscuit on top. The restaurant was kind enough to split two orders into five bowls for us, removing any need to figure out how to share it without swapping germs. Creamy and good even if the very strong bacon flavour surprised me at first.

Clam Chowder

A side order of a full-sized buttermilk biscuit was utterly gorgeous. American-style biscuits are one thing I really miss here in London and this one was just perfect, all tender and flaky and glazed with honey.

Buttermilk Biscuit

Fried Clams were insanely good – actually, all the fried seafood I had in Boston was excellent.

Fried Clams

The clams came with some fries but we ordered another side of them just in case we didn’t have enough food. It turns out we had enough food and really didn’t need these fries, however excellent they were.

Hand-cut Fries

I’d heard a lot about the restaurant’s Ethel’s Lobster Roll and we ordered two to split. They were delicious, each was overflowing with lobster pieces just held together by the mayo dressing. Forgive me, but I would have preferred fries to the potato chips (crisps) on the side but that’s just my preference.

Ethel's Lobster Roll

Another favourite of mine was Mrs Bennett’s Seafood Casserole. This was a very generous mixture of seafood cooked with seafood stock, cream and a bit of tomato paste amongst other nice things and topped with crushed crackers. It was lush and we kept finding lots of things including a small lobster tail that we split between us. I need to learn how to recreate this.

Mrs Bennett's Seafood Casserole

A colleague’s order of Herb Crusted Gloucester Cod was fine but not as exciting to me as all the other treats. Still, it was a unique to me combination of beans, yellow beans, chorizo and hot peppers underneath that large chunk of cod.

Herb Crusted Gloucester Cod

Orders from the raw bar took the longest as they were clearly getting hammered by the late night crowd. Fluke Crudo were slices of raw fluke marinated with orange, lime and sesame and there was a bit of chilli in there for spice too.

Fluke Crudo

A couple of us got oysters – these Chatham oysters were lovely and meaty (I prefer the flat meaty kinds to the large plump creamy types). I’ll never understand the need for cocktail sauce on an oyster though.

Chatham Oysters

I felt like exploding after that meal – there really was no space for dessert. I wish I’d left a little space for their peach cobbler but we were having trouble keeping our eyes open too after the long day (yeah, everything after this was a bit of a blur). Actually, I wish I could have tried everything on their menu.

If you’re curious, I think it worked out to about $45 per person. It’s a really fun, buzzing restaurant that I certainly highly recommend. Bookings are a must.

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave
Boston MA 02215
USA

Island Creek Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Did you watch the BBC series Italy Unpacked where Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon travel together around Italy, looking at gorgeous Italian art and eating gorgeous Italian food (their first series together was Sicily Unpacked)? Yeah, two of my favourite activities, together at last. On one recent programme, they traveled to Livorno, on the coast of Tuscany, and there Locatelli cooked an incredible looking fish stew from that city. The video clip where Locatelli cooks this cacciucco can be seen here. You can see why I suddenly felt the need to make one of these fish stews the next day.

The story goes that you want at least five different types of fishes in this stew, one for each ‘C’ in the word ‘cacciucco’; Locatelli mentioned 17 in the programme but this seems a bit over the top for just two or four people! Use as many as you can get – it’ll still taste great with just two or three different types of seafood. After referring again to the video and then to online recipes, I came up with the recipe below. It’s super easy; it’s only a bit of a pain getting the variety of fish unless you have a great fishmonger nearby.

Cacciucco

Cephalopods are first cooked in a base of wine, tomato and fish broth and after their long stewing, the fishes then spend a grand total of five to ten minutes in their delicious bath to ensure that they’re not overcooked. The finished dish is full of flavour and would make a great dinner party dish as it’s quite the showstopper coming to the table. Do make sure to serve it with lots of bread to soak up the lovely broth.

Cacciucco
serves 4.

2 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large pinches of dried chilli flakes
3 tbsps tomato paste
about a glass of red wine

1 large squid, cleaned and cut into pieces
a handful of whole prawns
assorted other fishes – I used a chunk of monkfish, the tail end of some pollack, a couple of jacks (excellent) and a small red snapper

Fishes

For fish stock:
1 onion, cut in large chunks
1 carrot, cut in large chunks
1 bay leaf
parsley stems
fish trimmings
(or 1-2 cups fish stock)

For serving:
thick slices of a good white bread (a baguette will do)
a large clove of garlic
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

First, make your fish stock. I include a quick recipe for it here but if you’ve already got fish stock, by all means, please use it! In a pot, place your onion, bay leaf, parsley stems and fish trimmings (I used trimmings from the fish I was going to use in my cacciucco and the prawn heads). Pour over about 2-3 cups water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and continue stirring for another minute. Add the squid and saute for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and fry until it darkens slightly. Pour in the wine and let it bubble way for a bit for the alcohol to dissipate. Pour in the fish stock (I used about 2 cups) and bring to boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and let simmer away for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes are up, it’s time to cook the fish! Place in the whole and larger meatier fishes first, let them have a little time in there, and add the rest of the fishes/prawns in stages. When everything is just cooked, turn off the heat.

Cacciucco Bubbling Away

Toast the bread and rub both sides with the garlic. Lay in a single layer in a serving dish. Carefully pile up the seafood onto the bread and spoon over the broth, making sure all that bread is soaked. Sprinkle with parsley if you have it.

Toasted Bread with Garlic

Serve with more of the broth on the side (dunking extra bread in it is so good).

Cacciucco

Also just before the holiday season, I was invited to an event by Seafood from Norway to highlight the seafood delights from that Nordic country; this was a one-off supperclub to promote sustainable Norwegian Seafood in the UK and it was to be catered by Signe Johansen, cookbook author and brunch/supperclub hostess extraordinaire. The location was Republic of Fritz Hansen in central London, a gorgeous shop selling the best of Scandinavian design (why has no one told me of it?!).

The table was already starting to fill up with delicious morsels while people were arriving to the shop. Cured salmon with a shot of Linie aquavit, rye pannekaker, sour cream and pickled fennel was a delicious, and substantial, bite – I loved the pickled fennel with the sour cream and the cured fish.

Cured Salmon with a Shot of Linie Aquavit, Rye Pannekaker, Sour Cream and Pickled Fennel

If I had to choose favourites though, the other canape floated my boat more – the Sweet Norwegian prawns with wild dill pollen mayonnaise, lumpfish roe, pickled cucumber on sourdough crisp bread. These light little bites were perfectly balanced – creamy, crispy, sweet, salty, sour. Yes, yes, I do like Norwegian prawns, thank you very much.

Sweet Norwegian Prawns with Wild Dill Pollen Mayonnaise, Lumpfish Roe, Pickled Cucumber on Sourdough Crisp Bread

Battered cod cheeks with dill, anchovy and pickled cucumber salsa were another favourite; we were burning our fingers and spilling that moreish green sauce everywhere as we hastily scooped it up.

Battered Cod Cheeks with Dill, Anchovy and Pickled Cucumber Salsa

At this point, Signe emerged from the kitchen to tell us all about her Norwegian background and her love for seafood. The menu was sort of a taster of what a Norwegian Christmas table could feature if it was only all about the seafood (I think meat does feature traditionally). Completely unbeknownst to us, the woman sitting to Signe’s right in the photo below was the award winning Bridget Hugo, who runs Bread Bread in Brixton.

Bridget and Signe

Bridget’s breads were pretty spectacular. The brown one below was made of all rye and included slightly fermented rye grains. The half whole wheat also included some white flour and rye flour. Both were great with a good schmear of butter and we ate plenty of it just as is.

Rye Bread White/Whole/Rye Bread

We also scoffed quite a bit of bread with the next dish – Lightly-cured halibut with lemon and elderflower. Elderflower and fish? It was absolutely fantastic and I could have easily cleared the entire platter. It was my first time eating halibut in this cured way and I loved it.

Lightly-Cured Halibut with Lemon and Elderflower

Platters of salt-baked celeriac and a colourful kale and spelt salad now appeared on the table, ready to accompany our main course of Roast haddock with bacon and rye crisp.

Salt-Baked Celeriac Kale and Spelt Salad

And here was my plate. A modest serving as I had filled up on uh…prawns on crispbread. The haddock was lovely but I’m not a fan of the rye bread crisp on top. I understand that this topping is commonly used to top apple crisp in Sweden… and at last year’s Swedish Blind Date, it was made clear to me that it is perfectly awful. It’s indeed one way to use up leftover bread but I’ll give it a miss!

Roast Haddock with Bacon and Rye Crisp

After the meal, Signe then cheerfully brought out shots of aquavit for everyone…

Signe Brings Out the Aquavit

…which I passed and instead went straight for her fantastic homemade pepperkaker. A brick of brown cheese was also brought out and surprisingly, it pairs well with the pepperkaker.

Pepperkaker

Thank you very much to Lisa from Bray Leino for the invitation! It was a great introduction to Norwegian seafood and Norwegian cuisine prior to my business trip to Oslo.

For Norwegian Seafood in London, ask your local fishmonger or supermarket fish counter. I’ll be on the lookout for those prawns. To try some of Signe’s cooking, take a look at her website for updates.