A Snapshot of Cuba – Part 1: Havana and Eating Out

Well the summer in England this year has been a bit of a non-starter.  July was pretty wet, windy, and decidedly autumnal. August is so far a bit temperamental.  I’m hoping for an Indian summer now…!

DSCN1870

Instead of focussing on the English climate too much, I’m instead harking back to warmer days and remembering a time when it was (too) hot – back in May, when the OH and I went to Cuba. We spent almost a week in Havana, a few nights on the beach in Varadero, then went south and spent some time in Trinidad (in Cuba, not Trinidad & Tobago!) and Cienfuegos.

DSCN1842

When I told friends and family we were off to Cuba for our holidays this year, some were jealous, and some were unsure what the country had to offer. I thought it was obvious: sun, mojito’s, 1950’s american cars, salsa music… the only thing it’s not got much of is great food. The political situation in Cuba has meant that there are not a lot of ingredients to play with, the Cubans also generally don’t like spice and have a fairly conservative attitude to food, so it’s quite a plain cuisine – think plantain, potato, rice and beans, chicken etc. This is fine for a few meals, but it does get a bit boring after a while! We did find some gems in the rough however, and the cocktails were all excellent 🙂

Below are some thoughts on Havana and the nicest food we found there…

Havana

Havana is a very interesting city. It was fairly obvious to us back in May that it is going through a time of change; buildings are being spruced up, businesses are springing up out of people’s doorways and windows, and there were plenty of roads being paved and swept. Overall however, the city still feels very poor. A lot of buildings are derelict and crumbling, there aren’t many shops or cafés in large parts of the city, and the shops that are there have only a small amount on their shelves. We were staying in Centro Habana which is one of the poorer parts of the city, so it may have been more obvious to us than tourists staying in the parts of the city that have had money injected into them (such as Vedado and Vieja), but I was pleased we saw that and not just the sanitised version of the city.

DSCN1836

There’s a certain charm to the city, it’s colourful, the cars are amazing, and the people are generally friendly. It would be interesting to go back in a few years time and see how the city (and country) has changed, now the US embargo has lifted. I think some things will definitely change for the better (the food hopefully being one of them!), but some of the charm of the place may be lost. We shall see…

DSCN1890

Eating out

There are lots of restaurants in Cuba, and they are generally split up into State-run Restaurants and Paladars. We didn’t really eat in any State Restaurants as we were told the food wasn’t great, opting instead for the Paladars. The most interesting thing about Paladars are that most are privately run, and they are quite often in people’s houses. Sometimes it feels like having dinner in someone’s living room, and sometimes they are incredibly professional and have entertained the likes of Jay Z and Queen B.

La Guarida

DSCN1868 DSCN1866IMG_2280

L – R: The entrance to the building, the floor below the restaurant, inside the restaurant.

Our favourite meal of the entire holiday was in La Guarida (a paladar that has entertained the aforementioned musical royalty). This was in Centro Havana, but in culinary terms, you wouldn’t know you were in Cuba. The food was beautifully presented, and on a par with any fine dining restaurant in Bath taste-wise. The flavour combinations were excellent and i can’t help but wish they would run a cookery school to help educate some of the restauranteurs in flavour. The building was also very atmospheric.

IMG_2268 IMG_2272IMG_2269  IMG_2278

L- R: Bread basket, utterly delicious Green Salad with Baked Pineapple, Goats Cheese & Tarragon Vinaigrette, vintage cutlery, crazy looking but really tasty Rabbit Paté with Mango, Tamarind and ‘Cotton’ (similar to candy floss!)

IMG_2273 IMG_2274 IMG_2279

L- R: Suckling Pig with an Orange & Honey Reduction (perfectly crunchy top, melt in the mouth bottom, lovely sauce), Three Tenderloins with Three Sauces – Blue Cheese & Chocolate, Green Pepper, and Béarnaise (a nice idea but a bit odd in practice – the only dish we didn’t love), and a Mango & Coconut Tart (really refreshing and a good way to end the meal – quite similar to a cheesecake in texture). 

La Guarida

Concordia no.418 e/ Gervasio y Escobar

Centro Habana

Decameron

20150522_191406 20150522_191429 20150522_193149 20150522_193214 20150522_200842 20150522_200855

Another paladar we were impressed with (also in Havana), was Decameron, in the Vedado district. The food was a little simpler here, but the flavour combinations were still excellent, and they made the most of the produce Cuba has to offer, and made it interesting. My Duck Confit with Papaya was delicious. The decor in here was interesting too, lots of pendulum clocks on the walls.

Decameron

Linea, no.753 e/ Paseo y 2

Habana Vedado

DSCN1858 DSCN1862

Part 2 will be about eating in Casa Particulares and our experiences in Varadero, Trinidad and Cienfuegos! And maybe some cocktails… 😉

Have you been to Cuba? Are you thinking about going? Let me know!

Weekend Wanderings: Cardiff Street Food Circus

20150607_185301

 Last weekend the OH and I went to Wales for the day. We went to the Gower Peninsula and had a picnic on Rhossili beach, and went for a walk down to the Worm’s Head – it was lovely but so windy!

20150607_124340 20150607_125620

On our way back we went via Cardiff so we could check out Cardiff Street Food Circus, which I’d read about on another blog recently (Emily’s Kitchen).

IMG_20150607_191946 20150607_185521

 Set in a disused yard by the railway line, the street food circus has lots of food stalls (and trucks, and a bicycle!) around the perimeter, and a big top tent in the centre, with seating and bars, and live music or DJ.

It’s open 5pm-11pm Friday and Saturday evenings, and 2pm-10pm Sundays, and is free to get in.

Annoyingly, we turned up on the only weekend you had to pay to get in, because the street food awards were on! It was £5 to get in but you got a free pint of beer/cider/soft drink with that.

Because it was the street food awards, some of the traders were different to advertised on the website which was a bit of a shame, but we still ate well.

On to the food…

20150607_19044320150607_190554

First off we had a look at DFC (dirty fried chicken – take a look at the logo!), and ordered not chicken, but halloumi – fried with pickles and a choice of sauces to nibble on whilst we perused the other stalls (£3). The chicken did look pretty tasty, and dirty, but we decided we wanted to try some of the more unusual offerings so moved on.

Find them on twitter @eatdirtybird

20150607_191407 20150607_191353 20150607_191623

We made a pact not to order the same food, but to share everything, and the OH picked Patagonia as his preferred choice (who turned out to be the winners of the Street Food awards heats earlier in the day – lucky guess!). The Patagonia Cheese Steak 48 hour brisket with onions, mushrooms, mozzarella & stilton sounded immense so that was a done deal (£8). Unfortunately they’d run out of stilton, so we had extra mozzarella instead, and they cut it into two so we could share! This did not disappoint – the meat was obviously really tender and all the toppings went really well with it. The stall owners were really friendly too 🙂

Find them on twitter @PatagoniaStFood

20150607_194638 20150607_194928 20150607_195007

My choice was from Bombay Frankie Rolls (by Purple Poppadom) and was a flatbread coated with a thin layer of omelette, with a choice of fillings and pickles, chutney and red onion. I went for the tandoori chicken tikka filling and it was pretty spicy! Really delicious though and quite filling. I also liked the fact that they asked for my name and spelt it right without having to ask – then I remembered I was in Wales with a welsh name so it wasn’t that weird…

20150607_195959 20150607_200030 20150607_195544

All that spicy loveliness meant it was time for more drinks, and Chai Guy came up with the goods to go with my indian food – a mango lassi smoothie (£2). Perfect. The OH went for a Karma Cola from the bar which is fair-trade and has an excellently designed bottle!

Find Chai Guy on twitter @bristolchai_guy

20150607_201343 20150607_202352

One of the main trucks we’d wanted to visit when i originally looked at the line-up was the Brûlée Bar by Wild Fig farm – loads of different variations on cremè brûlée, torched to order. Good times. When we first turned up and saw the van was there we rejoiced. We also noticed it had a huge queue… later on we went back and saw that all the brulee’s had run out… sad times. There weren’t any other dessert vans or stalls on offer (gap in the market?), so we queued up anyway and had some of their ice cream – salted caramel with salted candied peanut topping. Double salt, double caramel, pretty awesome. It might be worth queueing for dessert first if you go, or bringing along your own creme brûlées, as they don’t seem to have enough to cater to all the potential customers…

Find Wild Fig on twitter @wildfigfarm

20150607_193914

Before we went I had one of the special cocktails in the big top bar, which was like a second dessert anyway – a Candy Floss Vodka Soda (£6). Pretty much as it sounds, candy floss is soaked in vodka so it disintegrates, and then is topped up with soda. it was very sweet and very sweet to look at!

20150607_200843 20150607_193036

The street food circus was great fun and reminded me that not all cool stuff happens in London! I can see Bristol doing something similar if it hasn’t already (maybe as part of Eat Drink Bristol Fashion next year?)

Is anyone doing anything fun or food-related this weekend?

 Cardiff Street Food Circus
The Old Stable Yard
John Street
Cardiff
@streetfoodCDF

A trip to Hauser & Wirth (Lunch at the Roth Bar & Grill)

DSCN1606

DSCN1607

Easter Monday was a glorious day in Somerset, so the OH and I decided to go out exploring and ended up at Hauser & Wirth, an Art Gallery with a garden and restaurant just outside Bruton. We’d been meaning to visit for a while, as the gallery opened last year and is quite a big deal – they have galleries in New York, Zurich, London – and now Somerset!

DSCN1622

DSCN1608

We arrived feeling pretty thirsty, so headed straight to the (very cool) bar, and got talked into trying a ‘Dovecote Breeze’ (£4) by the barman. This was a combination of celery, apple, kale and pear juices, and was delicious. It quenched our thirsts and also left us feeling quite virtuous…

DSCN1610

The courtyard was buzzing with people and a barbecue was taking place which was tempting, but we were trying out the restaurant later so had some will power and headed into the gallery…

 DSCN1612

The gallery is housed in the grounds and buildings of Durslade farm (including the Piggery), and is free to visit (there is a donation bucket in the shop). There are currently three main exhibitions on show, the biggest  by a Chinese artist called Zhang Enli – large-scales paintings inspired by nature and the changing seasons. There was also a sound installation by Susan Philipsz – inspired by the farm buildings and the theme of traditional country dancing. It is also ‘Architecture Season’ at the gallery, which meant over 100 architectural drawings and sculptures by leading architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Rem Koolhaus were on display (as a recently qualified architect, this pleased the OH no end). 

DSCN1613   Some of the architectural drawings 

DSCN1611 One of the sound installations in the Threshing Barn

DSCN1614

The Cloister – very peaceful spot to sit and soak up the sun!

DSCN1616

DSCN1617

The garden was designed by award-winning landscape designer Piet Oudolf. it is supposed to be a perennial meadow, but it looked a bit sparse and bare to us! We may have to come back in the summer and see it again, as the photo’s on the Hauser & Wirth website are stunning.

DSCN1618

DSCN1621  DSCN1619

At the end of the garden was the Radić Pavilion (designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić), a contemporary take on a folly, which was originally on display at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It’s quite an impressive structure, and is quite imposing at the end of the garden. It was really interesting wandering around the inside, and seeing the interior glow due to the sunlight.

20150406_145120  DSCN1624  DSCN1625  DSCN1628

And then it was on to lunch. The Roth Bar & Grill is run by the team at the nearby At The Chapel in Bruton (worth a visit). The space is really interesting, and definitely feels part of the Art gallery, as you are surrounded by paintings, installations and little sculptures.

The menu was larger than I thought it would be from the website, comprising of about 8 ‘light’ dishes, their burger, 6 specials, 3 ‘from the grill’, and a good selection of side dishes. The food is sourced close to home, with much of it coming from the farm itself – the butter is even produced in the restaurant!

20150406_141041

We were offered some bread and the aforementioned butter whilst we waited for the rest of our food – and it was delicious. I also really appreciated being offered free bread and butter, as so many restaurants charge for it now.

DSCN1629

After that we went straight for mains. The OH went for the RBG Burger: ‘Beef burger, pickles, onions, Sandridge Farm bacon, smoked Godminster cheddar, brioche bun, chips’ £13. We’d driven past the Godminster shop on the way, so we knew that was pretty local… It was a good sized bun, lovely juicy bacon (obviously the good stuff, not the watery rashers you get in some supermarkets), and crunchy, tasty chips.

DSCN1630 DSCN1631

I went for one of the ‘Light’ meals, mainly because the puddings looked delicious and I wanted to leave room! The ‘Mussels, cider,fennel, bacon, chips’ (£12) was actually pretty big for a light meal, but I found it the perfect amount – it also came with (wild) garlic bread. The mussels were huge, the sauce was delicious, the chips were still crunchy and tasty, and the bread was an added bonus.

DSCN1632

Puddings-wise I was torn between two on the menu (plus the cheeseboard, but I don’t think I would’ve had room for that). Luckily the OH couldn’t decide what to have, and was easily persuaded into trying one of the two – so I could try both 🙂

He had ‘Baked vanilla & white chocolate cheesecake, passion fruit’ (£6). The cheesecake was firm and creamy, and very sweet – luckily the passion fruit gave it the sharpness it needed.

DSCN1634

I had ‘Blood orange & almond cake, rose water syrup’ also £6. I have a bit of a thing for blood oranges at the moment, so this was perfect. I love almond cake, and this was made more moist by the rose water syrup, which was delicately flavoured and didn’t overpower the orange. The orange was just on the right side of sharp and was lightly caramelised. I might have to attempt to make this sometime…

DSCN1635

After pudding, we both had a very nice Cortado (£2.40) – feels so european in glass cups…

I also had a homemade ginger beer (£3.50) with my food which was delicious, and apparently made with caramelised limes, which I saw at the bar on the way in.

DSCN1604

We had a wander around the shop, which has lots of nice books and presents for anyone arty or creative (including some interesting children’s books), and then went into Bruton for a wander, before driving back to Bath.

DSCN1636

If you’re in this neck of the woods I’d recommend a visit to Hauser & Wirth and The Roth Bar & Grill – the beautiful Somerset countryside, a bit of culture, and some local, delicious food – it’s pretty much the perfect day out…

Pigging Out – At the Pig near Bath

For my Birthday this year I decided to check out The Pig near Bath. It is a boutique hotel (near Bath, funnily enough) with a restaurant that prides itself on its ’25 mile menu’. Ever since it opened last year I’ve fantasised about spending a weekend there – lazing around in the ‘Potting Shed’ spa, gorging myself on food in the ‘Greenhouse’ restaurant, and then retiring to one of their luxurious but rustic bedrooms for the night. Alas, the whole package is a bit out of my price-range for the moment, but myself and my family did definitely gorge ourselves in the restaurant – and it was wonderful.

Firstly i’ll apologise for the grainy, bad quality photos – the lighting in the restaurant is more conducive to romanic, cosy meals than good-quality food photos (as it should be). So i’ll have to try and woo you into going with descriptions rather than pictures – and if you check out their website here that will give you a pretty good idea too.

IMG_20150130_152602

Onto the food: What caught my eye straight away was the ‘Piggy Bits’. Above the starters on the menu, and £3.75 each, these were the equivalent of a bar snack in size. Pretty much all incorporating pig in some way, these were my idea of heaven! We chose 3 and shared them out – from left to right on above photo: Crackling with Apple Sauce, Honey & Chilli Pork Belly Bites, and Ham hock Scotch Eggs. The pork belly was ridiculously good, and therefore not big enough 😉 – sticky and sweet with a hint of heat from the chilli – I knew then I would be going home happy! The crackling was crisp and salty and more-ish, and the apple sauce contrasted perfectly. The scotch eggs had runny yolks and crispy outers – just as they should.

IMG_20150130_152702

20150129_212737

It was then on to starters. I had Venison Hash & Crispy Hen Egg with a Pickled Garden Salad. Crispy eggs are an excellent invention – not to be confused with another eggy marvel, the scotch egg (invented at fortnum & mason’s in the 1700’s apparently – see sidebar), a crispy egg doesn’t have any meat, it’s a soft-boiled egg coated in breadcrumbs – Yum. The venison hash was rich and went well with the egg, the crispy outer giving the dish an extra texture. Dad had the platter of cured Mendip Meats which came with sourdough bread and chutney, and lots of little pickled bits, like caper berries. I tried a bit (in the name of research of course), and in my opinion these local meats were just as good and tasty as any you’d find in Italy or Spain, and it’s great that they’re so local! The OH had the standout starter of the evening though – Sweet & Sour Tripe (not pictured – it went too quickly). Neither of us had tried tripe before, but the OH very sensibly decided if he was going to try it, here would be a good place, and he was right – delicious.

20150129_214939

20150129_214925

Ashamed to say I was already getting full by this point – I must have gorged myself too much on the piggy bits, but I soldiered on nonetheless and had a Rabbit Escalope with lentils, capers, lemon and parmesan – a winning combo. Mum had Lamb cutlets with a lamb ‘bonbon’ – breadcrumbed of course. It was given the thumbs-up. We ordered some of their triple-cooked chips which came in a flowerpot but tasted lovely, and also some of their steamed garden greens. It’s nice to know that so much of the produce has come from just outside in their kitchen garden – just a shame it was too dark to see any of it (we’ll have to go back for lunch some time).

20150129_223817

20150129_223655

20150129_223805

By the time we got to desserts I was seriously stuffed. Dad managed a New York-style cheesecake flavoured with rosemary (from the garden of course) and the OH ordered some ‘Piggy Fours’ (their version of petit fours) which included homemade fudge. I felt I had to have something but it needed to be VERY light and small – step forward the ‘Shot of Foragers sorbet’ – at £3.50 this was the cheapest dessert option too, the rest being £7.00 (the piggy fours were £4.50). This was very refreshing and light, with the added bonus of popping candy on top! It also had a biscuit in the shape of a pig, with ‘Happy Birthday’ on it 🙂

Our waiter had found out during the meal that it was my birthday (and commented on how young I looked for my age, so I already liked him!), and he also overheard us mentioning how nice it was to see the italian dessert wine Vin Santo on the menu (I once had an italian boyfriend whose family made it), so when he brought out my birthday sorbet, he also brought us out a glass each on the house!

This is a good example of the excellent service we received all night, and it really helped to make the evening special and memorable. Our waiter was attentive all evening without being overbearing, and obviously knew the menu well enough to offer suggestions on the food. They also had a dedicated sommelier to help further with wine.

The only negative point I can think of about the restaurant is the lack of vegetarian options (there were about three, including starters), but I suppose with a name like ‘The Pig’ it’s not that surprising…

I think a trip out to The Pig for Sunday Lunch is definitely in order at some point – although they seem to be booked up pretty far in advance – but I can just see myself lazing on a sofa in the snug with coffee and petit fours, and wandering around the kitchen garden.

So the moral of this review is – go and be satisfied! (Unless you’re a veggie)

El Celler de Can Roca Part 4: Sweeeet

I do apologise for the extreme tardiness of this post, particularly in relation to parts 1, 2 & 3 (found here, here and here if you need reminding!)

This is the last of the El Celler de Can Roca posts, and it’s dedicated to desserts. Writing this before tea is slightly torturous but I’ll do my best…

IMG_1932

I wish I could post a video of this first dessert, but I haven’t worked out how to 😦

“Sourdough ice cream with cocoa pulp, fried lychee and Jerez vinegar macaron”.

The reason it needs a video is because it moves. That’s right, MOVES. The actual dessert is only the little spiky white ball, the rest of it is a strange latex blob which appears to ‘breathe’ and moves up and down whilst you’re trying to eat the dessert on top! It’s supposed to symbolise the fermenting of the sourdough ice cream, in case you didn’t realise. Mine didn’t actually work unfortunately, but it turns out the OH has issues with eating something that looks alive, so we swapped and I got the full experience after all – phew. It was very tasty, quite fruity with the lychee, nice and light with the ice cream and tiny bits of macaron. I didn’t notice too much of a yeasty flavour which I was pleased about, just a bit of sourness. We had Sake with this dessert which I’m not a massive fan of, but it wasn’t too bad with the ice cream.

IMG_1935

IMG_1936

“Caramelised Apricot”

The next dessert had a lot to live up to looks-wise, but I think it delivered. A perfectly spherical piece of blown sugar, to represent the apricot which, when you cracked open, spilled out a caramelised apricot cream. I could have eaten this ten times over, delicious! We had a lovely honey-tasting dessert wine with this course too which added to the deliciousness – ‘Casta Diva Cosecha Miel 2010‘.

IMG_1937

The last dessert was called “Chocolate Anarchy”. It was basically every type and style of chocolate you could find on a plate. It was good, but I personally could have done without it, as I don’t LOVE chocolate (give me a cheeseboard any day), and I found it quite rich for the last dessert of the evening. I would have preferred to have stopped at the apricot, but if you’re a chocolate lover then I’m sure you would’ve been in heaven. The most exciting for me with this dessert, was the wine – a sweet Pedro Ximénez dessert wine from 1962 (info on it here) – I’m pretty sure that’s the oldest wine I’ve ever drunk! It was thick and treacly, and sweet and lovely. We also had a small wine glass of black coffee too, which added a nice note of bitterness.

The Sweet Trolley

20140917_002121

IMG_1943

IMG_1941

Turns out the desserts weren’t quite the end – we had petit fours in the guise of a Willy Wonka-style sweet trolley which was rolled up to each table for you to choose what you wanted. I was massively stuffed by this point, but not one to pass up on free food (and it all looked pretty cute), so we had a selection of most of it, and by we, I mean me – the OH gave up after one. They were all really nice though – I loved all the jellied fruits (top of photo moving down), mini chocolate tarts, madeleines, little tubes of apple filled with custard, mini cookies, truffles with gold leaf, and pineapple infused with mint.

And we’ve finally come to the end of the meal… We turned up around 8.30pm and left just before 1am… a full evening’s experience!

Lots of people have asked if it was worth the money, and I personally think it is – as a SPECIAL occasion. It all comes down to what you like to spend your money on though I think – one of my main enjoyments in life is going out for a nice meal, with wine and good company, so I’m happy to pay more (once every 10 years maybe!) for a real restaurant experience that I’ll never forget.

The service was excellent, the space was beautiful, the meal was crazy but amazing. It was a good night.

El Celler de Can Roca Part 3: The Land

And now it’s time for the meat courses!

IMG_1925

IMG_1927

This plate was a bit of a cross-over dish: ‘Surf and Turf’. It looked like a piece of sardine, but that was a cunning ruse to make you think you were still on the fish courses. It’s actually pork jowl, with sardine skin, a charcoal-grilled sardine-bone broth, suckling pig sauce and chervil oil. It was ridiculously beautiful to look at, with the shimmering sardine skin and the pink of the jowl – i’d like a clutch bag in similar shades 😉 The pork jowl is a very fatty cut, but it worked well with the sardine, and the sardine flavour wasn’t strong enough to overpower the dish which was great.

IMG_1928

Another ridiculously pretty plate (slab?) of food – ‘Spicy mandala of artichoke flower, milk-fed lamb belly, lamb sweetbreads, curry yoghurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, sweet potato, leaves and flowers’. That is a bit of a mouthful for a dish that is only a little bigger than a mouthful! Mandala is actually the pattern made by this dish rather than an ingredient – it’s a hindu and buddhist symbol representing the universe. The lamb in this dish was melt-in-the-mouth, and it was nice to have lots of different flavours to combine and eat it with – a bit like the skate dish earlier in the evening.

IMG_1929

This next dish was the OH’s favourite of the night – ‘Veal shin with St.George’s mushrooms, marrow, tendons, avocado and truffle’. The main thing I thought whilst eating this was ‘the ultimate roast dinner’. Ok so it was missing some roasties, but it had that rich, comforting taste to it that I associate with a good roast dinner – and a bit of earthiness too. I know it says tendons on the menu which could put people off, but I’m guessing it was in a puree because I couldn’t see anything resembling a tendon! Plus, I adore bone marrow, and truffles, so it goes without saying this dish would be enjoyed.

IMG_1930

‘Pigeon trilogy’

This last meat course probably would have been my favourite, but I was getting pretty full by this point so it was hard to thoroughly enjoy it. Despite this, one part of it did blow me away a bit. The full description of this dish is: ‘Pigeon heart and the cloud of rice, pigeon stock. “Botifarró” and Tatjé pigeon breast. Botifarró is blood sausage, and the pigeon ‘heart’ was actually pâté made to look like a heart (on the black slab). The pâté was the best I have probably ever tasted – so velvety, smooth, rich – utter deliciousness on puffed rice. The rest of this pigeon dish was equally rich, and almost as delicious. It was served with a small amount of pigeon stock in a glass, and the wine that came with this course was from 1986! (Pesquera Janus 86 D.O. Ribera del Duero). This felt pretty decadent.

In the next (and final) instalment, find out what we had for dessert, and if we managed to get out of our chairs at the end of the night…

El Celler De Can Roca Part 2: The Sea

And now back to the main event…

El Celler de Can Roca Part two:

The start of the menu! (Not all from the sea admittedly, but the majority was…)

IMG_1910

We had some delicious bread to choose from before the main menu started, and were encouraged to try at least three different types – I tried to only eat a teeny bit of each, as I was getting a bit worried about how much there was to come!

Luckily the first course was very light and refreshing. We started with a summer vegetable stock which was a joy to behold, I didn’t want to eat it as it was so pretty. But I managed it in the end. It was in-between sweet and savoury as there was mango in it as well as all the lovely vegetables, and it was served at a low temperature.

IMG_1912

Next came a white asparagus and truffle ‘viennetta’. Yes that’s right, savoury ice cream. The first mouthful was a little odd, possibly because my brain was trying to decide if it liked creamy cold vegetable ice cream, but from then onwards it was enjoyable – if still slightly strange! It was paired with a Riesling which was quite sweet and therefore further confused my brain as to whether this was dessert or not… but it’s good to try something completely different 😉

The Fish Courses

The OH and I aren’t the biggest fish/seafood fans in the world – I like fish as it’s long as it doesn’t taste too ‘fishy’, and i’ll try pretty much any seafood, but prawns are the only seafood I actively seek out on a menu – the OH doesn’t like them at all so that’s the only time i get to eat them! We decided therefore that there were a couple too many fish/seafood courses for us, as interesting as they all were, I would have been more excited about a couple more meat/vegetable ones.

IMG_1917

The first fish course was Mackerel – a ‘fishy’ fish! It was marinated in sugar and salt, served with pickled capers and chillies, fried tomato, mullet roe, and a mackerel sauce. It looked stunning – the mackerel sauce was made using the skin so that it glistened on the plate, and it was made to look like the pattern on the skin. Clever stuff. If you like mackerel i’m sure you would love this dish, I really liked the pickled bits with the mackerel as it was a nice contrast in flavours, but overall it’s just too fishy for me.

IMG_1918

Next up was the dish I was most scared of when looking at the menu: A salad of Sea Anemone, Razor Clam, Sea Cucumber and Seaweed in escabèche. I’d never tried any of the items listed except seaweed before, and the presentation of the dish didn’t particularly allay my fears either – it looked like everything was about to crawl out of the bowl! A good-looking bowl it was though. The actual taste of this dish was fine, although I didn’t think any of the seafood tasted of much – it seemed to be more about the texture. I would’ve been happy with about half of that amount. You did get to eat it with tweezers though which was pretty good fun!

IMG_1921

Next up was a dish entitled ‘A whole Prawn’. This was: Charcoal-grilled king prawn, crispy prawn legs, head juice with seaweed, and a seawater & sponge cake of plankton. I thought this was going to be my favourite of the seafood dishes as it had my favourite item of seafood as the main event – sadly i didn’t love it.(The OH liked it more than I did!) The crispy legs were pretty tasty, the head juice was ok, the plankton sponge cake was strange, and the prawn just wasn’t cooked enough for me – I really didn’t like the texture of it. Strange.

IMG_1922

Luckily the next few courses made up for the first few 🙂 Next up was Langoustine. This was brought to the table in a steamer with hot rocks underneath. It was then cooked at the table – the waiter poured sherry onto the hot rocks, then put the lid on the steamer – within about thirty seconds the langoustine was cooked. The sherry gave it a sweetness, and it was a nice touch to see it cooked in front of you. it was served with a bisque velouté that was utterly delicious – I could’ve drank another couple of cups of that at least! The wine pairing for this course was sherry (unsurprisingly). But surprisingly, it is that blob you can see on the spoon above. It had been reduced down to almost a caramel, so you had to just suck it off the spoon – another nice touch.

IMG_1923

The last of our fully seafood/fish-orientated courses was another good one: Confit Skate served with six different types of mustard. Doesn’t sound like much, but the Skate was melt-in-the-mouth, and the mustards all gave an interesting dimension to the flavour of the fish. There were hazelnut flavours, bergamot, honey, and more – it was fun to mix up the different sauces with the Skate and see what you came up with…

Next up: The Meat courses… (this really is turning into an epic!)

El Celler De Can Roca Part 1: Snacking

IMG_1945

In September I took the OH to Girona for a special birthday. It’s a lovely little medieval city and has lots of places to get delicious food (as posted about here), but its most famous restaurant has to be El Celler de Can Roca – the three michelin star restaurant which is currently number two in the world – and the main reason we came to Girona.

The restaurant is owned by the three Roca brothers and first came to our attention when it featured on Masterchef: The Professionals three years ago. The food looked amazing, the space looked amazing, and the brothers seemed pretty interesting!

I booked a table at the restaurant back in October 2013 (when it was number one in the world!), as bookings open up 11 months in advance. It was a stressful morning with an expensive phone bill at the end of it, but i’d managed it hurrah! Now I just had to try and keep it a secret…

…and I managed that too :-). He found out on his birthday, which gave us a month to get excited together.

When it actually came to the day of the booking, I felt quite nervous – maybe because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations, and worried it wouldn’t be worth the (large) amount of money I would be paying for it.

Luckily, overall it was as amazing as we hoped it would be!

Below is a little description of the first part of our evening and what we ate…

The Venue

IMG_1939

IMG_1940

The restaurant itself is a modern space, elegant but unstuffy – an elongated triangle-shaped dining room with an atrium in the centre, filled with silver birch trees. Most tables were placed to look out onto the trees, which was nice!

Each table had three rocks as decoration – to represent each of the Roca brothers.

We turned up early to the restaurant, and the concierge showed us round the kitchens which was a nice surprise.

The restaurant has two menus: The ‘Classic tasting menu’ which was 7 courses, or the ‘Feast Menu’ which was 14. Each are to be served to the whole table, so everyone has to decide on the same one, and there is the option to have wines matching each course.

Now there were some lovely sounding dishes on the classic menu, but if you’re coming all this way, making it a special occasion, surely you’re going to have the feast menu and the matching wine for each course?! Well we did anyway 🙂

The Snacks

Before the menu even started we were given a class of local sparkling wine, and then a succession of ‘snacks’ – one of which was possibly my favourite for the whole evening!

IMG_1901 IMG_1902 IMG_1905

Caramelized Olives were the first thing brought to the table, hanging on a bonsai tree. These were delicious but strange – who would’ve thought anchovies and caramel would go? We also had a black ‘bon bon’ each (just pictured in top photo) – filled with grapefruit and black sesame – these literally melted in the mouth and were very refreshing. Following these were prawn crisps on a mini fishing net, which were very crisp and nicely prawn-y. It was a good start, and we were excited about what would be coming up next….

IMG_1906

…Next came what was probably my favourite of all the dishes that evening – ‘The World’. A paper globe opened to reveal a tiny morsel from 5 of the countries the brothers have most recently visited or been inspired by. From top: China – crispy pancake with pickled veg and plum cream. Mexico – mini burrito with beef, mole poblano & guacamole. Morocco – tiny pastilla filled with almond, rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout & goats yoghurt. Korea – Panko fried bread with bacon, soy sauce, snow peas, kimchi & sesame oil. Turkey – Vine leaf ‘tartlet’ with lentil puree, eggplant, goats yoghurt & cucumber.

These were so tiny and perfect, each one an explosion of flavour that really captured the tastes of each country for me – I would’ve been happy with another 20 rounds of them. But surely we’d be on to the menu next…

IMG_1908

… not yet! The next ‘snack’ was two different types of ‘tapas’ on spoons, resting on a silver coral sculpture. You can probably guess these were both seafood. The top was pickled barnacle with bay leaves & albarino (a white wine grape), the bottom was Mediterranean lobster ceviche. I was quite sceptical about eating barnacle, and not terribly excited about raw/cured lobster either. They were perfectly edible, but I’d say a spoonful was enough for me! I like a bit of seafood, but probably only actively order prawns or mussels in a restaurant, and the OH isn’t particularly enamoured with any of it, so if you speak to a seafood lover they may well be in raptures about these two snacks…

IMG_1909

This next ‘snack’ sorted us both out though – truffles of the savoury kind – one of my favourite things. The little things in the stone bowl were truffled bon bons – made to look like truffles found in the wild, they had a crunchy outside and creamy truffle inside – yum. The two little spheres on the slab were a type of brioche dough filled with and topped with truffle. And again I say yum. Truffle is a strong flavour, and if you’re not a fan it would be a bit overwhelming, but for me it was delicious.

And then it was time for the 14 courses (and wine) to begin!

Part 2 coming up…

Hola Girona

Hola! Sorry for the recent lack of posts, I was conducting important food research in Spain. The short answer to my findings is: Yum. The longer answer will be found below…

DSCN0618

I took the OH to Girona, a medieval city in North-eastern Spain for a special birthday. The main reason for this was that it is the location of the second best restaurant in the world – El Celler de Can Roca, which i’d managed to get us a reservation at (only 11 months in advance, no biggie!!). The upside to the location of the restaurant is that Girona is a lovely little city, perfect for wandering round and finding lots to see, eat and drink – all of which we did.

I will be doing a dedicated post on the crazy restaurant experience soon, but for now – here are some other things we ate and drank over the course of four days:

Saturday

DSCN0603 DSCN0607 DSCN0610 DSCN0611 DSCN0612

Cub was a bar/cafe just down the road from our apartment – so we went straight there for lunch when we arrived, and tried some of their tapas – interesting flavour combinations but all tasty! From top: Dates wrapped in bacon, Patatas ali oli (potatoes with garlic mayo basically), Chorizo tostas with melted cheese & green peppers, Cured duck with poached pear & hazelnuts, and Black pudding & Pistachio croquettes. The dates particularly were heaven!

DSCN0614

Next door to cub was a gelateria that also sold Orxata (Horchata). I first had this in Valencia years ago and love it – it’s a drink made of tiger nuts, water and sugar, and served ice cold. Delicious…

20140913_210933 20140913_213517

That evening we went to a Pintxos bar called Txalaka (pronounced Chalaka).

Pintxos is similar to Tapas, but is mainly served on bread, with a skewer/toothpick. This bar was like a buffet, you grab a big plate, fill it up with goodies, eat it and keep the sticks to show how much you need to pay. I was like a kid in a sweet shop! We also had a basque sparkling white wine called txakoli (the wine is so cheap out there!). You can go up as many times as you like, just don’t forget you’ve got to pay at the end…

On my plate (clockwise from top left): manchego cheese & quince, olives stuffed with cream cheese, figs & cured ham, prawn wrapped in crispy potato strips, cream cheese, pistachio, cured duck & balsamic on bread, marinated broad beans & cured duck, and a cheese croquette. There was also a selection of sweet pintxos, but i only had room for one – little orange jellies.

It was all tasty, i’m only disappointed i didn’t have room for more, as they kept bringing out new dishes every ten minutes or so!

Sunday

Sunday we went to Barcelona to meet up with an old friend who lives there. There are some amazing bars/restaurants in Barcelona but we just stopped at a little cafe and had snacks, so I didn’t take any food photos apart from this one…

20140914_161736

Dulche de Leche Ice cream from a shop in Barceloneta (by the sea) – it was fabulous but i’m sure about half of it dripped down my hand as it was so hot! And I can’t remember the name of the place – terrible blogger sorry…

Monday

DSCN0632

Monday we did some more exploring around the old town, and found quite a few places serving crepes, probably because it’s so close to the border with France. We chose to eat at Creperie Bretonne because it had a really good value menu del dia (menu of the day – like a set menu), €8.50 for two courses and a drink, and also because they had a big bus in the restaurant – amazing!

DSCN0621 DSCN0624 DSCN0625 DSCN0626

There was a choice of soup, salad or quiche to start, then a choice of three galettes. We both chose the ham and cheese quiche to start, which was rich and delicious, and i had some cidre (french cider) which came in a tea cup! We then both had the same galette too – chicken, onion, cheese and chives, which was deceptively filling but very flavourful. Unfortunately I didn’t leave enough room for one of their salted butter caramel crepes, which pains me to this day, as it sounded amazing. Never mind… I did have room for a cortado though – similar to an italian macchiato – an espresso with a little bit of warm milk.

20140915_213902 20140915_220449 20140915_220455

Monday evening we ate at a restaurant called Occi, which lonely planet and our airbnb host had recommended. The menu was a bit fusion-y, mixing Spanish with French, Italian, and some Asian ideas. I had the cheese plate to start – the waiter recommended having half of the portion size which was a good idea as there was still plenty to eat! I liked all the cheeses, a mixture of goat and sheep’s cheese mainly, but felt it could have done with more than the two apricots as accompaniments – some quince or other fruit maybe?

For mains we both went for duck options, the OH had Duck cannelloni with port and apples, which was more like a duck pancake as it was made with pastry. I went for the duck breast with blue cheese ravioli and a coffee sauce – mainly because it sounded odd. The flavours actually all went fine together, but it was all quite stodgy and could’ve done with some vegetables or salad to lift it a bit.

We didn’t have room for dessert but they brought us out some sugared almonds which was a nice touch. There was also a pre-starter of pumpkin soup with crunchy lardons which was probably the nicest thing I ate there! The food generally felt like it was missing something for me, but our waiter was great, and very good at choosing wine for each of us!

Tuesday

DSCN0677DSCN0678DSCN0680 DSCN0681

Breakfast! A trip to Xocolateria L’antiga, an old-fashioned cafe, was in order for some crazy thick hot chocolate and a pastry. I was desperate for churros but nowhere seemed to have them, so we settled for an ‘Ensaimada’ each – a majorcan cake that tasted a lot like Pannetone. This, dipped into the chocolate was almost enough to make me forget about churros.

DSCN0682

I said ‘almost’! When we finally found some an hour or so later I couldn’t resist. We didn’t have them with chocolate, just dusted in sugar and hot and delicious.

DSCN0691 20140916_134834

Lunch ( I know, we still stopped for lunch after all that): Le Bistrot. We’d walked past this restaurant every day on our way into the old town, and liked how all the tables were set up on the steps – it looked pretty romantic in the evenings. We had their menu of the day – €13 for two courses and a drink. We both chose their house speciality for main – Pork cheeks, which came with chickpeas, carrots and onions. We then had pineapple for dessert, which was literally two massive chunks of fresh pineapple on a plate. The food here was pretty rustic, but the pork cheeks were blinking’ gorgeous and falling off the bone. The service wasn’t amazing but the cheeks made up for it!

That evening we went to El Celler de Can Roca, but I will leave you in suspense about that for now because i have more than enough photo’s to do a dedicated post on that one restaurant!

I’d thoroughly recommend Girona for a mini-break – it was really nice having a few days just to wander around the medieval part of the city, popping into churches and gardens, and restaurants and bars. There are enough places to eat and drink that you could probably eat somewhere different every day for a couple of months!

Some of the things we recommend seeing:

The Cathedral

The Arab Baths

The Archeology Museum (for it’s amazing setting in an old monastery)

Walking the old city walls

More info on Girona can be found on the lonely planet website or the Girona tourist office website.

Let me know if you’ve been!

Ladies that Lunch

20140822_155426

Last Friday my mum came over to Bath for the day so we could go to the ‘Great War in Costume’ exhibition at the Fashion Museum (it’s only on till this Sunday – 31st Aug) so go quick if you haven’t seen it!)

It was really interesting, not least because it had costumes from the tv programme ‘Downton Abbey’ as the main attraction. There was also a lot of information about women’s roles during WW1, and suffragettes. The war certainly seemed to help the women’s rights movement – women couldn’t just be the home-makers anymore when there were jobs in factories and on farms to be done. Their clothes changed too – particularly underwear. The old-style corsets couldn’t be worn to do manual jobs, so more fluid styles were created.

It must’ve been strange for women when the war was over and they were expected to go back to their lives at home, and also for the men coming back from the war…

20140822_160957

Some great posters about food during the war – and the dreaded alcoholic drinks!

Anyway, on to the food!

We wanted a nice lunch, but nothing too expensive, so I did a bit of research the day before and looked at lots of set menu’s for restaurants in Bath. There are definitely some good deals to be had, but it all depends on whether you like the look of any of the choices on the menu! More so, because set menu’s tend to only have around three choices per course.

I always like the sound of the menu at The Circus restaurant, but we’d eaten there the last time mum came over for lunch, so I thought somewhere different would be nice.

Allium Brasserie at the Abbey hotel came up with the goods.

Their set menu was £17.50 for two courses or £23.50 for three, and I would’ve happily eaten at least two of the choices on each course – luckily mum agreed!

I also knew the food would look great, having eaten there on my birthday in the past, and the dining room is spacious and attractive – with modern art hanging on the walls.

This is what we ate:

20140822_132318

For starter, I had the Chicken and leek terrine, with pickled mushrooms, a mustard & potato salad, a Caesar dressing (and a bit of crispy chicken skin). This was really tasty, the terrine went well with the pickled mushrooms, and I saved some of their lovely bread to have with it too.

20140822_132313

Mum had what would’ve been my other choice – broad bean and pea salad with feta, lemon, goats curd, and chargrilled courgettes. It tasted as fresh and summery as it sounds (and looks!)

20140822_134708

For the main course I had Pan-fried gnocchi, girolles mushrooms, peas and broad beans, baby artichokes, and a hazelnut & mushroom pesto. This was the standout dish for me – the combination of flavours was great – the freshness of the peas and broad beans with the earthiness of the mushrooms and gnocchi – I may have to try and recreate this at home sometime!

20140822_134717

Mum had roast chicken breast with bacon, peas, carrot, baby gem, and pasta tubes. This tasted almost like a summery stew – quite delicate flavours, but with the richness of the bacon coming through.

20140822_145812

Mum chose to have a glass of prosecco as her ‘dessert’, but I was feeling greedy and went for a proper one (I was also feeling a bit tipsy after the wine we’d already drank so didn’t need anymore alcohol!)

I went off-menu for my dessert and onto the ‘a la carte’ menu. I normally try not to look at the main menu in a restaurant if I’m eating from the set menu, because I always decide I want something from the more expensive one! I didn’t feel too bad doing it this time though, as we’d already got our first two courses for £17.50.

I had a ‘milk tart’ with white peaches and peach sorbet, cinnamon, grated chocolate and mint. This was approximately £8 (it’s not on the menu anymore so I can’t say for certain).

It looked beautiful and tasted good – although I didn’t think it needed all the extra bits. I would’ve been happy without the chocolate and mint, I felt they overpowered the actual tart a bit, as it had quite a subtle flavour. It wasn’t like a traditional tart, it reminded me more of a mille feuille with its very crispy layers of pastry.

As it happened, the dessert ended up being free because it took a long time to get to me in the first place, so that made it a bargain!

We were impressed with the service we received throughout the meal, and particularly when ordering the wine. We had ordered a half-bottle of wine that wasn’t available, and were given a ‘free upgrade’ to the next bottle up, which was delicious – hence the tipsiness…

It’s definitely worth trying the set menu at Allium, as the food looks and tastes lovely, and of course the a la carte menu too, if you’re feeling a bit more flush!