Sunday, 2 December 2012

Fantastic tapas at El Quim de Boqueria

Padron peppers at El Quim
There's just something fantastic about food markets isn't there? I could rattle off my favourites, but at the top would probably be Barcelona's Mercat de La Boqueria. It's the diversity of the produce on offer that just boggles. From the great fruit and veg to the incredible array of seafood as well as the weird and wonderful animal parts that I would have no idea how to cook. I love the fact that La Boqueria is still a bustling, living market, where locals shop elbow to elbow with gawking tourists, but the Catalan still drowns out the English. When you throw in a dozen or so tapas bars cooking with the obviously market-fresh food, I could visit every day and never get bored. Eating at the terrific El Quim de la Boqueria would surely brighten anyone's day. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Eating well in Montreal

Duck in a Can at Au Pied de Cochon
I recently did a mini road trip in Quebec, driving up from Boston with a stop in Vermont for good measure. It's beautiful countryside if you ever get the chance to visit the area (well apart from the flat, straight, monotonous drive between Quebec City and Montreal). I've wanted to visit Canada for ages. I'm not sure why, but I tend to think Aussies and Canadians are quite similar. Maybe it's just our shared British colonial past. Anyway, we spent four days in Montreal and another two in QC, sampling lots of local food. Like any large city, central Montreal has an amazing variety on offer. I ate classic French (better than most bistros in Paris), superb Japanese, somewhat average Vietnamese, smoked meat sandwiches, bagels, burgers and, of course, the inimitable poutine. But the best meal I had was at Au Pied de Cochon, the Montreal institution and temple to foie gras and all things meaty.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Roganic: in perfect harmony

Cumbrian stout dessert
I guess like most of us, I love watching cooking shows on TV. I just can't bare, however, to watch ones with a competitive element. OK, Come Dine With Me was good to begin with but quickly went off the rails, and I can spend some time with the Great British Bake Off. But Masterchef, for example, irks me beyond belief. Throw in a celebrity element and you've completely lost me. I'm much happier watching Nigel Slater wax lyrical about a fig, or better yet, repeats of The Two Fat Ladies with their brilliant theme tune, smothering each other in lard. As a result, I completely missed the Great British Menu, which combines both celebrity and competition. Simon Rogan was in the latest season (apparently) and if I'd watched the show I probably would have understood his oeuvre earlier, as I had his London restaurant Roganic figured all wrong. I mistakenly thought I was in for Hestonish culinary trickery. Instead, what I got was interesting food combinations sure, but also one of the most balanced and harmonious meals I've had the pleasure to enjoy.

Monday, 8 October 2012

A gelati tour of Florence and Rome

Vivoli - my favourite
I've recently been travelling in Europe with my family who were visiting from Australia. They were keen to see Italy, so we spent the best part of a week there. The good thing about having my 10 year old nephew in tow was that there was always an excuse to stop for gelato, even if trying to narrow down the selection to just two or three flavours at a time proved a challenge. While we only had time to visit Florence and Rome, we still managed to spend a good deal of it with a cone or cup in our hands. So while this is just a mini review of the gelati we ate, the quality in Florence was far superior, and cheaper, to that in Rome, and the beautiful Vivoli was my favourite with its strikingly fresh fruity flavours.



Sunday, 7 October 2012

Duck & Waffle: everybody's waffling

Duck & Waffle
I've not told anyone this before. For my 11th birthday I really wanted tickets to see Culture Club in concert at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. The band was riding high in the charts in 1984 with Colour by Numbers, my dad was grooving to Karma Chameleon and all seemed to be right with the world. Instead, we went to the revolving restaurant at the top of Centrepoint Tower in Sydney and had dinner. I sat patiently until dessert was served waiting for the tickets to emerge, but sadly they didn't. I don't remember anything about the food we ate that night, but I do remember getting lost finding my way back to the table after going to the loo thanks to that rotation. That and disappointment at having no tickets to see Boy George. As a result, eating at a great height always comes with a tinge of trepidation for me. So it was in that frame of mind that I stepped into the glass elevator and hurtled upwards to the 40th floor to Duck & Waffle.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Sacro Cuore: pizza to cross town for

I sometimes wonder how my brain is wired. After eating at the recently opened Sacro Cuore Pizza in Kensal Rise all I could think about was a line from the "Apartment" episode of Seinfeld. Have you ever watched it? It's the one where the gang are at a house party to watch the New York Marathon and George proclaims to be Lord of the Idiots for giving up a lifetime of guilt free sex and tickets to sporting events at Madison Square Garden. Suddenly one of the revellers at the party shouts to the marathoners, "you're all winners!" only for George to reassess his Lordly claim with the line, "but suddenly a new contender has emerged". I guess you had to be there. Anyway, it's the "new contender" phrase that I thought of when I ate at Sacro Cuore. That's because I really enjoyed the also relatively new Neapolitan pizza place Saporitalia on Portobello Road, but I think Sacro Cuore is a step above and probably, just probably, the best pizza you'll get in London.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Burger madness at Shrimpy's

The Shrimpy's soft shell crab burger
You gotta get a gimmick, Gypsy Rose was told all those years ago.  London's restaurants are still heeding this advice too in an effort to stand out and attract the punters. It seems to be working if the queues at places like Burger & Lobster, Flat Iron or Tramshed are anything to go by where the gimmick, obviously, is the one or two trick menu. I'm not saying that gimmicks are bad, it's just that some do it better than others. B&L, which I really like, was so successful it has spawned a Soho sibling and another is on the way in Farringdon. So, what's a new restaurant to do to get on our radar but jump on the gimmick train. This brings us to Shrimpy's and its soft shell crab burger. I mean, London is awash with burgers at the moment with new places opening up quicker than you can yell "order up". But so far there's been a relative dearth of seafood burgers (fish fingers excepted), so if there's an unexploited niche then you might as well fill it, right? So how does Shrimpy's fare with its foodie gimmick?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A confusing meal courtesy of Brasserie Zedel

Parfait de foie gras
I'm generally a pretty cluey person. Well, I'm prone to episodes of imitating Dr Stupid now and then (for you Ren & Stimpy fans out there), but generally, I'm fairly switched on. What worries me is that I'm still puzzled by Brasserie Zedel. Eating food shouldn't be confusing, should it? But being served broadly mediocre food, with haphazard service in an over-the-top lush setting resulted in such perplexity that it's taken me ages to order my thoughts enough to tell a coherent story. But let's attempt to document the meal as best we can. Shall we start with the good?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Let's go to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

The glorious Meat Fruit
What can anyone say about Dinner by Heston Blumenthal that hasn't already been said? I mean, it was the most anticipated restaurant opening in London of 2011, and is still as popular judging by the difficulty in securing a prime-time table. That will get even harder now that Dinner has entered the hallowed ranks of the Top 10 best restaurants in the world at number nine. It even pipped its older brother The Fat Duck which sank to 13. Now, in my opinion, there is no way that Dinner is the 9th best restaurant in the world, one rank behind the incredible Arzak for example. That's not to say that you won't eat well at Dinner, because you most certainly will.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A slice of Naples in London at Saporitalia

Pizza heading into the oven at Saporitalia
After my recent trip to Italy which included a few trips to Naples to eat what else but pizza, I forlornly resigned myself to possibly never eating a slice again. You see, my pizza experience at Da Michele was so good I just assumed it would never be matched. That crunchy, but still chewy, fire-charred crust has not been far from from my mind since we returned to London. But now there is Saporitalia, a new offering right on Portobello Road, that will likely keep my pizza cravings at bay until I get myself back to Naples.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Petersham Nurseries Cafe is worth the wait

Standing rib eye of veal, farro, artichokes, hazelnut agresto
I should probably do more exercise. That thought struck me as I ambled along the Thames from Richmond station towards Petersham Nurseries on the weekend. Mr B and I strode past cyclists, power walkers, runners and a mess of rowers (well, there was a regatta on) most of whom were keeping the tills at Hollister and Jack Wills ringing. Not that I'm sedentary, but my exercise is usually more confined to the inside of a gym or a yoga studio. Anyway, despite the lack of sunshine, and some pangs of inadequacy, it was a pleasant walk by the water and long enough to work up an appetite for our lunch. If we'd had more time, we would have lingered to look at the Royal barge Gloriana, looking all shiny and resplendent but, sadly, sans monarch.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

An impromptu dinner with wild asparagus

Do you ever find yourself presented with an ingredient curve-ball? I had a moment like that this week when Mr B brought home a bunch of wild asparagus and tasked me to prepare dinner. The defrosted chicken thighs that I was going to steam and drizzle with a spicy Asian dressing were going to have to wait. I wasn't quite convinced that chilli chicken with a side of wild asparagus were happy plate partners.

Wild asparagus isn't really something you come across in UK food markets, although it's more common on the Continent. When I lived in Brussels (thankfully briefly), wild asparagus would crop up in the early part of Spring. Mr B once cooked a gloriously memorable dish with the thin asparagus spears, fresh morels, bacon and new potatoes with inspiration taken from the Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor cookbook. Actually, the local neighbourhood markets were the best thing about living in Brussels.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Meet me at MEATmarket

When you're on a good thing, stick to it, right? Well, the team behind Meatwagon and MEATliquor don't seem to agree. At the freshly opened MEATmarket, their second bricks and mortar offering, it's almost the opposite of the MEATliquor experience. Sure the burgers are the same quality, but it's in other areas that things are different, and, well, better. The new venue is light and airy instead of dark and dingy (not that that is a bad thing, mind), the queue potential is lower, plus they sell milkshakes. Joy! Obviously the goal was not to replicate the original success because the two spots aim give you different experiences. MEATliquor is the kind of place you want to sink into and sample as many cocktails as your liver allows, whereas MEATmarket is a drive-by kinda joint and the set up reflects that ease. Don't get confused though. This food isn't fast like McDonald's. It's more like Ronald on steroids.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Pizza heaven at Da Michele in Naples

A Da Michele marina (front) and margherita (back)
Now I don't want to alienate you, but I can pretty much take or leave Julia Roberts. I mean, credit where it's due, she's an Oscar winner for Erin Brockovitch, which, confession time, I haven't seen. Pretty Woman was good though. I find that the "slippery little suckers" line is one you can use in just so many situations. Oh you remember, it's in the bit of the film where she is trying to eat escargot in a fancy restaurant and one snail shell goes flying across the room. Hilarious. Oh, and there's Steel Magnolias too. Who could resist Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton in the same film? Julia was a pivotal character but wisely remained a supporting actress among that lot. But these films are generally throwbacks to the 80s. So it was with a little concern that I found myself waiting to order pizza in L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples last week with a recent picture of Julia Roberts beaming down at me. Good Lord, that mouth!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cookbook review: Kylie Kwong's Crispy Duck with Plum Sauce from Heart & Soul


I'm on a bit of a Australian chef kick at the moment. I've been cooking Christine Manfield, Karen Martini, Jill Dupleix and Kylie Kwong like there's no tomorrow. I've also thrown in some Neil Perry recipes to redress some of the gender bias going on here.

So with Easter upon us and four days of eating opportunities ahead of me, I decided to cook something a bit more involved and with a lot of wow factor. So what better to cook on Good Friday than a Chinese-style duck dish courtesy of Kylie Kwong?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Cookbook review: Harissa Lamb Shanks from Christine Manfield's Stir

I'm a big fan of the lamb shank and also of Christine Manfield, so putting the two together is a dream date. If you don't know Christine I suggest you grab one of her cookbooks or book yourself a flight to Sydney to eat in her most recent venture Universal. My love affair with Christine goes back a while now. I celebrated getting a new job in Sydney back in 1999 by dining at Paramount, her then ground-breaking restaurant in Potts Point. I still remember eating the duck pithivier and the multi layered rainbow flag ice-cream dessert she created for Sydney Mardi Gras one year. Christine was also kind enough to sign her fantastic book on desserts, which I bought for Mr B's birthday one year. Her mandarin sauce is also legendary at my family Christmas. I think you get the picture. I quite like Christine.

Friday, 6 April 2012

London's best breakfast at Golborne Deli

I'm on a mission to find the best breakfast in London and I need you to help me. For me, there can be fewer more satisfying events than a slightly lazy, unhurried Saturday morning over a good breakfast, preferably with the sun on my toes or some other exposed part of my body. It is a thing to be cherished. Granted, this doesn't happen often in London (at least the toe bit) but we had some stunning weather recently and I suggested to Mr B that we skip the cereal and go out for some eggs.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Striking it lucky at Gold Mine, Bayswater


Do you ever get the noodle munchies? Join the club. If I'm in the mood for some Chinese and I'm not near Chinatown, I usually head over to Queensway which is closer to home. This strip has an unusually high selection of tourist trap restaurants but if you look hard enough you'll find a pretty good selection of decent Chinese places to eat too. There is of course, a branch of Royal China here which is an always reliable, if popular, dim sum spot. I've tried a couple other places on the strip (there used to be a good Malaysian there until it seemed to run out of cash to pay the rent) but I now tend to gravitate towards either the Gold Mine or The Magic Wok.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Cookbook review: Tofu from Kylie Kwong's Recipes & Stories

Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not a complete carnivore. Every now and then I like to refresh my system with some simple, non-meaty food. Believe it or not, I've flirted with vegetarianism a few times, lasting three months at one point, but the meat cravings generally get the best of me. After a lot of recent indulging I felt it was time for my favourite dish from one of my most reliable cookbooks, Recipes and Stories by Kylie Kwong. It's vegan and its tofu, but please keep reading! I promise you'll be inspired.

Monday, 26 March 2012

10 Greek Street is easy to find but not as easy to forget

Middle white pork with parsnips and spinach
Last week we checked out the newish 10 Greek Street in Soho. I'm all for restaurants naming themselves after their street address, unless perhaps you're located on Shoot Up Hill a suburb away in Kilburn. Heroin chic is so 90s, right? While a street-named restaurant may reflect a little poorly on the imaginative prowess of the owners, it is instead doing the diner a favour by making the destination all too obvious.  That comes in handy if you have friends like some of mine who lose all sense of direction the minute they step out of a tube station.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Cookbook review: Octopus from Vefa's Kitchen

From this...
I really like Greek food. Actually, food from that region, be it Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian all generally interests me. Near Queen's Park where I live in London, there are some great Middle Eastern supermarkets stocking just about everything I need locally. If I can't find it here, I can usually get it from the Edgware Road not too far away. London's cool like that.

It's been a while since we cooked Greek food at home though. We've got a few cook books with a Greek slant that we turn to when the urge strikes. The ever-reliable Tessa Kiros has a dedicated Greek book as well as recipes in several of her other books. Jill Dupleix, a wonderful Australian food writer and fantastic cook, has a few Greek recipes scattered throughout her numerous books too. But for this recipe, we turn to the Bible that is Vefa's Kitchen.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A French feast at Koffmann's

Oink
With so much eating out recently, I thought it was time to dial back on the food expenses a bit. But, as usual, I was thwarted by the latest email from Bookatable with a 3 course meal for £26 at Koffmann's. I'd meant to check out the legendary chef of La Tante Claire fame at his new home at The Berkley hotel after eating what was probably the richest meal of all time when he headed up the Selfridges pop-up restaurant a few years back. That meal, including the gloriously gelatinous trotters, still lives on in my memory, and probably my arteries. Oh and that pistachio soufflĂ©!

Now I'm generally a little wary of the set menu at places like Koffmann's. The menu tends to be a simpler take on a chef's food, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've not eaten at Marcus Wareing at The Berkely, for example, but I don't think I'd order his set lunch menu and then regretfully wonder if I were missing out on some of the flashier food combinations of the tasting menu. My point is that Chef Koffmann isn't really about flashy food combinations, but about honest, well constructed, hearty, French brasserie food. For that reason, I thought I'd give the Bookatable offer a go.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Seafood maestro Nathan Outlaw dazzles the Wild West

Brill tartare (L), Soused Mackerel (R)
Nathan Outlaw is my food hero and not just because he has the coolest surname I've ever come across. The man has established a true destination for foodies down in Cornwall focusing on carefully selected seafood. His namesake restaurant has gained two Michelin stars in the process and it's been awarded the title of Best Fish Restaurant in the UK by the 2011 Good Food Guide and I couldn't agree more.

So how did we end up in Cornwall for four days you ask? Well, do you ever have those moments when you just need to get out of the big smoke for a bit? I think it's because we last went away in December and have no breaks planned until April when we head to Sicily for a wedding. A short trip away to freshen our moods seemed definitely in order.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Tessa Kiros' red pepper soup in a new saucepan

Eva trio White Line casserole with red pepper soup
We went back to Copenhagen in early December. This visit was a second attempt to get there in as many years. The first was a snowed-out shambles thanks to the London winter of 2010. Remember when it all shut down? Sigh. But not this time, the skies were clear for take-off! Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities, to wit: the people are friendly, the food is great (yes, you noma...I'm still trying to get a repeat reservation) and the shopping is wallet-emptyingly good. It's not a cheap place to visit by any stretch, but I think you get value for money there. And I can't resist one of the stores which stocks a mind blowing collection of Danish design items along with other fantastic things. I'm talking about the department store Illums Bolighus, of course, and I always make a bee line for it when I get to Copenhagen.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dabbous: London's best new restaurant

Coddled egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter
There's been so much buzz about Dabbous since it opened a mere five weeks ago. The simple and elegant food, the rockstar chef with a pedigree CV, and prices which are shockingly affordable (well by London standards).

I heard about Dabbous via user restaurant reviews on Bloomberg before the big hitters like the Evening Standard showered it with five stars. Thankfully I booked a few weeks back and had the choice of sittings. Now Dabbous is booked out for the next two months. They deserve to be as this was one of the best meals I've had in London for a long time.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Cookbook review: Paella by Alberto Herraiz

Paella with chicken, prawns and squid in my sexy paella pan
I have a lot of cookbooks. Thankfully, I don't buy as many as I used to as I finally realised I've got no space for them. When we moved recently, I purged the ones I found I rarely cooked from and left them in the foyer of the apartment building I lived in. They all disappeared in an afternoon. It goes to show that people still love to cook. Or just like a freebie.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Ledbury, reviewed!

Amuse bouche
Expectations. It's best not to have them too high.

I'd been looking forward to eating at the Ledbury (www.theledbury.com) for ages and had tried to get a reservation before but it was always booked up. With my birthday coming up I decided this was the time to play the reservations game and book the day the next block of tables came onto the market. So, two months ago, on the dot of 9am, I was on the phone and was shortly thereafter the happy holder of a reservation for three!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burger & Lobster = awesomeness

Burger & Lobster (http://burgerandlobster.com/) has been getting a lot of press since it opened. And all of its been good. As it was my birthday last week, I couldn't think of any better excuse to check it out, despite chowing on lobsters and burgers on my trip to the US the week before. I mean, can one eat too much lobster? Rhetorical question that one.

The concept at B&L is so simple. It's a no reservations joint and there are only three choices on the 'menu' and they all cost 20 pounds. There's the 10oz burger made famous at sister restaurant Goodman, a lobster roll, or finally, a whole lobster.  Actually, with the whole lobster we encounter a couple of other options. Do we want the lobster steamed, or do we want it grilled? Oh and the final choice is melted butter. Straight up or laced with lemon and garlic.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Michael Timothy's Local Kitchen, Nashua

MT's was the first restaurant I went to on my initial visit to Nashua. It was with folks from work and I knew I was going to enjoy the job because the food at MT's was great. It's a pretty casual place, which suits me just fine.

On my first visit I ordered the pot roast, mainly because I wanted to try the home made tater tots, and that was mainly because tots had featured in a recent episode of Glee. I was a tot virgin up to that point you see. The pot roast was succulent and so tender. The tots...well, they were deep fried bits of mashed potato basically. Perhaps I don't really "get" American food obsessions, but I'm happy to keep an open mind!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

So I'm staying in Nashua, New Hampshire for the next couple of days. Nashua is apparently the 27th safest city in the USA (http://en.wikipedia.org/) which is actually code for it being pretty dull. It also has a reputation on the Republican presidential campaign trail...but you don't want to hear about that do you? However, the trips I make out here mean I get to indulge in the local food and there are actually a few good restaurants here. Tonight I'm not at one of them. Although at Five Guys (http://www.fiveguys.com/), they actually do a very good burger indeed.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Dining at 30,000 feet

So can we talk about plane food? To be honest, I don't mind dining at 30,000 feet, but it definitely depends on who is operating the plane I happen to be sitting in. I was once able to fly business class with Singapore Airlines (for work) and that was one flight I actually looked forward to, even though it was a schlep all the way from Europe to Australia. The food was generally fantastic, as long as you opted for the Asian dish, which I generally lean towards anyway. And their chili sauce! The last flight I took with them back to London was so much fun, I actually didn't want to disembark.

But today I'm on British Airways. Hmmm. Not quite SingAir despite being in Biz Class (it's another work trip, but to New Hampshire this time). I can't say I've ever had a good meal on BA. My other half flew premium economy with BA to New York City last year. The stewardess actually apologised when she placed the food down on the plastic tray. "Sorry", she said with a shrug.  Kind of says it all really doesn't it?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Cay Tre Soho

What to eat? The eternal question. Breakfast, lunch, dinner...so many options.

Today sushi was in the mix, but that's been on my lunch menu all week. You know, the post Christmas must get healthy now thing. Hmmm, what about Vietnamese? I know Cay Tre opened up in Soho a little while back, and its easier to go there than to trek out to Old Street. When in Soho, we usually try to head for some udon noodles at Koya (www.koya.co.uk), but that's become so popular now. Weekend lunches were easier when I lived over east London way. And cheaper too! Song Que (http://songque.co.uk/) is my favourite Vietnamese in London, but its a bit of a hassle to get over there now.