Sunday, 3 November 2013

Eating well in Copenhagen

Bocuse trio at Geranium
So you're going to Copenhagen and you don't have a table at Noma. Who cares?! There is so much for the food-inclined tourist to do in Copenhagen that doesn't require hitting the refresh button on a website on the slim chance of getting a table at the former World's Best Restaurant (TM). In recent years, a number of places have opened up clearly influenced by Noma and its "new Nordic" vibe, but have made the concept more accessible and affordable. Actually, on expense, it's a bit of a misconception that Copenhagen is eye-wateringly pricey. Well, it's true that if you wander too far onto the wine list of most places, your wallet will start to hurt, but it is possible to eat well and not remortgage. So in this post I've tried to highlight a mix of places at different price points. I've also only mentioned those that I've been to in the last 12 months including Geranium, Radio, Amass, Bror, Relae, Geist, Almanak and Manfred's (which means skipping good meals at AOC and Fiskebar). I've included spots for a quick bite like DOP and Hallernes too, while not forgetting tips on the best of the cakes and pastries. Oh, and I couldn't leave out Tivoli either. So here is my non-definitive guide to eating well in Copenhagen. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Almanak at The Standard: next level smørrebrød in Copenhagen

The Standard
I just love Copenhagen even though it’s one of those cities that you may leave harbouring a slight inferiority complex. Oh you know, the impossibly good looking locals and their chiselled cheek bones will make you wish your parents swam in a different gene pool while the elegant simplicity of the interior design aesthetic will suggest that you throw out everything you own and start fresh with bare wood and muted natural colours. Actually, if you put those two elements together (the cheek bones and the design that is), you come close to the experience you might have at Almanak, a recently opened eatery right on the harbour’s edge around the corner from the tourist magnet that is Nyhavn. Sensational seasonal Danish food served in a comfortable room by the best of the locals is something to be savoured, whatever the psychiatrist bill.

Before you read on, there is a longer post with recommendations of my favourite places to eat in Copenhagen. You can find it here.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Travelling & Cooking in South West France: Cooking Part 1

Warm duck confit salad
You might not get that the reference in the title of this post is to Stephanie Alexander's great book Cooking and Travelling in South West France. It's a fantastic read with a great balance of recipes and recommendations on travelling, primarily in the Dordogne. I recently spent a week in the area and the book became something of a bible. I referred to it for recommendations on market towns and restaurants even though the book was published back in 2000. If you don't know the area, the Dordogne is picture-postcard France. Rivers wind lazily through the farmland, chateaux perch high on cliffs or nestle secretively in thick forests. It's bucolic stuff. Given the inspiring setting, I thought I would do a series of posts on some of the food I cooked from the many markets I visited and on some of the restaurants I ate in too. First up is cooking. This immense Warm Duck Confit Salad doesn't come from Stephanie Alexander, but is based on one from another great Australian cook and writer, Jill Dupleix. You don't win friends with salad, right? Well, this recipe will prove the Simpson's wrong.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Burger wars: Five Guys versus...Five Guys?

Five Guys USA
OK, so you were probably expecting a comparison of the different offerings from the new US burger interlopers in London, Five Guys Burger & Fries and Shake Shack. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I thought it might be more interesting to see how the UK version of one of the burgers compares to its US namesake. First up is Five Guys. So, where can you find the guilty pleasure and where is the burger that should have buyer's regret stamped all over it?

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Oodles of Noodles in Tokyo - featuring udon at Muginbou

Waste not, want not
One of the great things I love about Japan are the restaurants that specialise in cooking one thing. There is a superb place, barely a hole in the wall, in the Kappabashi district that cooks just yaki soba. It looks like a mother and son venture, with the noodles stir fried on a hot plate in the window overlooking the street by the son which are then ferried to the tables by the mother along with cups of hot tea. I have no idea what the name of this joint is since there's no English signage, but it's right by the Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza line and is a terrific pit stop after shopping in the wholesale cookware district. Just follow your nose and you'll find it. Oh, and a large plate costs about 3 pounds. But I'm not here to talk of yaki soba but udon. I love a big bowl of udon and in Tokyo I got my fix at Muginbou. It's definitely not on the tourist trail, but it's certainly worth the effort to find it.

Friday, 26 July 2013

A Feast for the Eyes at Tofuya Ukai, Tokyo

Gardens at Tofuya Ukai
They say you eat with your eyes. Well when dining at Tofuya Ukai in Tokyo, you'll be starving by the time you get to your table. With the restaurant set in an old multi-roomed manor on the grounds of a beautifully kept Japanese garden, Ukai has to be just about the prettiest place I've eaten. It's hard to believe that this oasis exists in the middle of Tokyo in the shadow of the Eiffel-like Tokyo Tower. The lunch we had here was an exploration of different preparations of tofu, in addition to other ingredients, but the service was so rapid we barely had time to digest the last mouthful of one course before another was served. Still, I'm reliably informed that there are no such issues at dinner, so Tofuya Ukai is perhaps one to try on a sultry evening to enjoy the food with enough time to take in the stunning gardens as well.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Best Meal I've Eaten - Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo

Nihonryori Ryugin
Hand on my heart, the meal I had at Nihonryori Ryugin was the best I've eaten. I know that's a bold claim, but from the first goose bump inducing bite of the 16 vegetable salad to the last sip of oolong tea, I felt as if I had been gently led on a journey of discovery. New ingredients, interesting combinations and unfamiliar cooking techniques coupled with engaging service made it an experience I won't forget.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Sushi Tetsu - The Joy of Sushi

Medium fatty tuna at Sushi Tetsu
Sushi Tetsu is one of those rare places that reminds you why you go out to eat. This welcoming seven seater in Clerkenwell, run by an amiable husband and wife team, serves unpretentious, high quality sushi and sashimi to an appreciative audience. As you step behind the noren, hiding prying eyes from the street, you emerge into a cosy bar much like what you would find on the back streets of Japan. When I visited, the atmosphere was buzzing with happy punters, with the bubbles of conversation occasionally popping to be replaced with a soft groan of happiness or an appreciative nod to the chef, acknowledging a wonderful shared experience. It's the best sushi experience you'll find in London.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Dumpling delights at Din Tai Fung, Silvercord Branch Hong Kong

Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung
If you like to eat dim sum then you probably already know about Din Tai Fung. If not, add it to your "must eat" list when travelling in Asia. While the menu is extensive and covers all of your dim sum favourites, DTF is probably best known for its Xiao Long Bao. These delicate little bite sized morsels are a wonder of skilful construction. The thin, almost translucent casing is pregnant with hot soup and demands some patience to avoid a mouth scalding. DTF make around half a dozen XLB varieties, but this is no one trick pony. Spicy wontons, a wonderfully flavoured chicken soup and a great tofu salad were some of the things I ate recently. Throw in terrific, friendly service and you're bound to have a good time despite, inevitably, having to wait.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Sarashina Horii, Tokyo - perfecting the art of soba

Soba with fresh baby bamboo at Sarashina Horii
I have to come clean and admit that ramen doesn't really float my boat. All the new ramen joints that have emerged in central London over the last year have been great for variety (and of the bunch, Shoryu's yuzu tonkotsu is my favourite), but mainly I yearn for cleansing noodles from Koya - if only the queues were shorter! For me though, soba noodles are where it's at. My first trip to Tokyo coincided with New Years Eve and the local tradition is to eat soba noodles at midnight. For some reason this left an impression on me. So on my recent return to Tokyo, ramen didn't feature on my must-eat list at all. I wanted to try more soba and udon. Happily, when consulting the sages of Twitter, I came across Sarashina Horii, a soba noodle specialist with a history dating back 220 years.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal: revisited and still magical

Tipsy cake (c.1810)
I recently had a particular gluttonous friend visit me from Australia. We ate high-end, low-end and everywhere in between during his three weeks in London. He was pretty keen to eat at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, as I've always raved about it. I didn't mind going through the booking rigmarole since I owed him one for securing last minute reservations at the Fat Duck for us back in 2005. I always feel some pressure recommending places to eat since there can be so many variables that affect the enjoyment on that particular day. So far though, Dinner hasn't failed me, with people always having good things to report back so I was pretty confident it would deliver again. And deliver it did.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Neptune Oyster - the God's are smiling

Neptune Oyster in Boston's North End is terrific. It's small and cramped, it doesn't take reservations and there's no dessert and no coffee. You might wait more than an hour for a spot at the bar or have to share a table with strangers, but you will forget all of that when you slurp your first briny oyster or bite into a chunky lobster roll. I recently took two work colleagues to Neptune Oyster before a flight back to London. I can't think of a better pre-flight meal and it sure beats the hell out of BA plane food.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Hits and misses at Hedone

Poached Irish Rock Oyster, Granny Smith, Shallots
Hedone is an interesting one. My potted summary goes a little like this: it's a critical darling serving somewhat polarising Michelin-starred food by an ex-blogger out of a cube-like space with an open kitchen in, of all places, Chiswick. Although serving arguably the best bread in London, I otherwise find it hard to categorise the food. Despite the Swedish heritage of the chef, Hedone doesn't really rock to the new Nordic vibe, but it is clearly produce driven. Some dishes we ate were spectacular, but others felt strangely one dimensional. The somewhat hit and miss food, coupled with haphazard service and uneven pacing to the meal make Hedone a difficult one to recommend. But since almost everyone else seems to like Hedone a lot, perhaps I missed the point.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Shiori - a welcome piece of Kyoto in London

Wagyu tataki mitsuba maki
The Shiori is probably as close to having a meal in Japan as you're likely to get without jumping on a plane. Recently relocated to Bayswater, The Shiori is the evolution of Sushi of Shiori, the tiny sushi bar near Euston that closed late last year. I never got a table there, since, much like Sushi Tetsu, it only held a handful of seats. At The Shiori, the emphasis moves away from sushi to explore the full range of Kyoto-style kaiseki and showcase the incredible skills of the chef. The room is still small, with around 6 tables, but it is obviously a labour of love for the husband and wife team. That passion for perfection is infectious, making Shiori one of the most enjoyable meals you're likely to have. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Trishna will enlighten you

Guinea Fowl Tikka
I don't know about you, but when I think of Indian food it's usually in a fast way. It's convenience food, right? Something you either pick up or have delivered when you don't feel like cooking. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I've got some great Indian places near me like Palki and Vijay, that I visit or order from pretty regularly. But eating lunch at Trishna in Marylebone recently has changed the way I view Indian food and for the better.