Saturday, 17 June 2017

Fowl Mouths at Noak

Asparagus with hollandaise and wild garlic bombs
I was really pleased to be able to try the recent Fowl Mouths residency at Noak in Brockley, going twice while they were open. The first visit was on my birthday with Ed and the second trip was with Becks on the last night of their extended run.
Togarashi Crispy Squid 
There was a lot to like, with the kitchen working quietly and efficiently to produce some beautifully plated food.  From my first visit the chargrilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce and wild garlic bombs was definitely one of the standouts with the wild garlic pods provided a real hit. I also remember the chargrilled broccoli with ponzu from my second visit being almost as good.
Miso aubergine

The Togarashi crispy squid was an exciting roulette with the some pieces of squid more well coated in the seven spice blend than others. Ed and I also both enjoyed the side of kara-age chicken, which brought back memories of eating the same thing in Hiroshima station after jumping off the Shinkansen from Miyajima.
Side of kara-age chicken
Both dinners could have been elevated to one of my highlights of the year, but were sadly held back by a couple of dishes that didn't quite work so well. On each occasion the pork from the slow cooked pork belly was a little dry. The miso aubergine was beautifully cooked, but there was so much miso paste on top that it stuck to the roof of your mouth as you ate it. On the second visit when I ordered the vegetarian miso garlic mushrooms, the yolk of the crispy panko egg was over-cooked too.
Gojuchang beef ribs 
It may sound like I'm quibbling, but the disappointment when something potentially brilliant falls short, is somehow worse than just having an average meal. I will just whisper that the pricing felt a touch too high for the portion sizes as saying it out loud would make me sound like I'm being unnecessarily mean.
Slow cooked ginger and sake pork belly

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Palma Pintxos, Mallorca

Pintxos at Tast Union
We checked out a few restaurant options for the Saturday night of our trip to Palma, but with none of them appealing, we decided to do some bar hopping instead.

The first place that we visited was Tast Union. Grabbing some seats at the counter we were a little unsure of the etiquette, but the form seemed to be that you helped yourself to plates from the pintxos counter (that either came in single or double servings). We also ordered a couple of dishes from the tapas menu.
Prawn, whitebait and salmon
The pintxos at Tast Union were really, really, good. Not only did every plate look amazingly appealing but there were also so many tasty combinations of flavour in every single bite. I particularly remember the courgette, jamon and garlic mayo pintxos (photo below) and an anchovy and jamon number with basil oil.
Chorizo in cider and cured sheep's cheese
Slightly less successful than the pintxos, for me, were the tapas that we also ordered. The chorizo in cider wasn't a patch on the version from L'Oculto. I'm usually a big fan of manchego style cheeses, but here it was easy to be eclipsed by the pintxos.
Courgette, ham and garlic mayonaise
Realising that we were somewhere very good we had a couple of extra pintxos rather than moving in case we ended up somewhere disappointing.

Tast Union
Calle Unio, 2, 
07001 Palma, 
Illes Balears,

When we did finally tear ourselves away we crossed the road and headed up a small side street and straight into La 5a Puñeta, which was equally great but in a completely different way. Where Tast Union on the main drag was polished, this place felt a lot more like an authentic local bar that hadn't changed a bit in the last ten years,

The small restaurant was filled with families and young locals looking to get their pintxos hit. Plates of food were brought out from the kitchen and placed on the bar. The crowds then descended to help themselves and if you didn't get in quick you were likely to miss out!
I remember trying the tortilla from the photo above which was really salty, but it worked very well.

Payment seemed to almost be on a honesty system where you went up to the counter on your way out of the bar and showed them the number of cocktail sticks that you had and told them how many glasses of wine that you'd drunk. Proving that honesty system do work when I realised I couldn't have paid enough, in my faltering Spanish I asked them if they'd charged us for the carrot cake (which they hadn't).
Carrot cake
I was pretty surprised both places charged the same for their pintxos at 1.75 EUR a pop. They are absolutely both worth a try. Tast Union won on presentation and just edged the flavour combinations for me. La 5a Puñeta wins on atmosphere and the fun factor.

La 5a Puñeta
Carrer de les Caputxines, 3
07003 Palma
Illes Balears

Monday, 29 May 2017

Hopping round Kyoto with a bus pass

Rock garden at the Daitoku-ji temple 
On our first full day in Tokyo we decided to purchase a one day bus pass, and coupled with our Japan rail pass, try and tick off as many of the major tourists sites as we could in a day.

Our first stop was the walled Daitoku-ji temple complex in the north of the city. There are twenty two temples inside the walls, with several open to the public to visit. All of the ones we saw had an entrance fee so we only went inside the Daisen-In zen garden. No photos are allowed inside the temple. It was a very tranquil and relaxing place and I have never seen such manicured gravel in all my life.  Surely they can't have placed all of those pieces of gravel individually. Surely?
The golden temple
It was then a second hop on the bus to get across to the far more popular golden temple, Kinkaku-ji. The ancient looking temple was actually rebuilt in 1955 having been burnt down by a novice monk five years earlier. The temple and lake were beautiful but it wasn't particularly tranquil with the crowds of tourists filing round with us.

In stark contrast to all of the other temples we visited there were hoards of stalls positioned so that you had to walk past them on the way into / out of the temple. They all felt quite out of place.

I'd been suffering with a streaming nose for a couple of days (pleasant image for you I'm sure) and as we walked past a pharmacy Becks convinced me that I should go in to buy a decongestant. Unfortunately the pharmacist didn't speak any English, and with Google translate letting me down, I attempted to act as having a cold with very little success. I was sold a nasal spray (Japanese pharmacies are expensive!) which I later discovered was a hay fever medicine. However, it had some positive effects even if it was a placebo.
Inside the bamboo garden
Our third stop of the day was one of the sites I was most looking forward to in Kyoto, the bamboo forest at Arashiyama having seen so many stunning photos of the place over the years. Sadly it was one of the most disappointing places we visited during our time in Japan. There was definitely a lot of bamboo but I saw none of the vistas that inspired me to visit in the first place.

Fushimi Inari-taisha
Our final stop of the day was Fushimi Inari-taisha. The main shrine was built in 1499, but the site is probably best known for the thousands of torii gates which line the paths on the mountain behind the main shrine.

I was already beginning to approach dusk as we arrived at the shrine so we didn't have long enough to explore the whole mountain and discover the inner shrine. However, we still managed to drift along quite a few of the walkways and up part of the hill.

Foxes (to can be seen in the photo above) are regarded as messengers and there were quite a few of them in and around the temple. Becks bought herself a small ceramic fox as we descended from the hill in the fading evening light. Sadly it got crushed in her bag on the flight home.
Torii gates

Dinner at Ootoya
For dinner we went to Ootoya, which is a chain of restaurants that we saw from time to time on our trip round Japan. It was a teishoku style restaurant meaning the food is served as set meals. I really liked the place as it was one of the view set meal places we visited during our stay and I think we picked a pretty good one to try. It was simple, clean and efficient and I was a happy boy with my katsu, rice, cabbage, pickles and mustard after a long day sightseeing without a lunch stop!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Palma eats: three places to try

Ca'n Joan De S'aigo
Here are three places we discovered on our weekend in Mallorca that are worthy of a mention.

The first is Ca'n Joan De S'aigo. We stumbled on this café on our first afternoon in Mallorca as we were waiting to meet up with the host of our Air BnB apartment and returned three times during our stay.

Open since 1700 this place has gone through the phase of looking faded and has come out as a classic with tiled floors, marble tables and some interesting pots and mirrors dotted around the place.
On our second visit we all tried the ensaimada, a traditional Mallorcan pastry made with an enriched dough. The pastry has a layered quality like filo but was much softer and less brittle. I've seen some recipes say that ensaimada are made with pork lard, but I never would have guessed based on the taste.

On our third and final visit I had a cup of the strawberry ice cream. Incredible value at just over 2 EUR this was the taste of summer with a beautiful strawberry flavour. Having seen other tables try the ice cream I'm definitely pleased that I got to sample some before leaving Palma.
Strawberry ice cream 

Ca'n Joan De S'aigo
Carrer Can Sanç, 10, 
07001 Palma, 
Illes Balears

Jamon y queso
On our first night we visited the nearby Molto Barra and were the first people through the doors as they raised the shutters at 19:30.

We ordered a bottle of Mallorcan red wine. We thought we should try a local wine and the barman commended us on our choice saying that Mallorcan wine has been going through a bit of a resurgence recently.

I was keen for my first taste of jamon so we ordered a plate of jamon y queso. What appeared was a plate of thick sliced Serrano ham, a sheep's cheese similar to manchego, toast rubbed with garlic and then covered in fresh tomato, olives and a few pickles. It was bloody brilliant and it only cost 9 EUR. I still think that must be a mistake, but as it was an off-menu item we've got no idea what it should have cost.
A Punt, Mallorcan Red
Molto Barra 
Carrer del Pes de la Farina, 12,
07001 Palma,
Illes Balears

Mike and Ed outside Mercado Gastronómico San Juan
On our Sunday stroll north of the city centre we found ourselves at the Mercado Gastronómico San Juan. The former abattoir which has been converted into a cinema, supermarket and upmarket food court.

(I was a bit surprised at how upmarket the place was. The prices were higher than several restaurants we'd visited in the centre of the city and while not being in a bad area, it wasn't the most well heeled either. However, it was definitely popular with the locals who arrived en masse to enjoy Sunday lunch.)
Inside the mercado
I started with a chorizo tortilla which came with a skewer of padron peppers on top. Padron peppers were a staple tapa when Becks and I were in Madrid and Seville so I was pleased to be able to taste some on this trip too.

The tortilla wasn't quite filling enough, and tempted by lots of people with boards of croquetas y rebozados I decided to order six to try. My Spanish isn't the greatest so my selections were a bit of a shot in the dark but I went for flavours I recognised as 'cheese', 'chorizo' and 'squid'. The tastes were a bit 'acquired' for me but the locals seemed to be hoovering them up.
Mercado Gastronómico San Juan
Carrer de l'Emperadriu Eugènia, 6,
07010 Palma,
Illes Balears

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Curry noodles, somewhere in the Gion backstreets, Kyoto, Japan

Dinner on our first night in Kyoto was on of my favourite meals during our two weeks in Japan last year.

Before we went on holiday Becks bought me a copy of Rice, Noodle, Fish, a book about the food culture and unique dining experiences of Japan. One of my memories from the book is the stories of small restaurants run by individuals striving to be the best they they can. They frequently only serve one dish and spend their careers perfecting their craft.

Dinner that night in Kyoto felt like one of those places.
The small restaurant only sat 8-10 people along a single counter and was run by a friendly man who took our order, served us drinks and most importantly cooked for us. He only cooked two things, noodles and tempura.

I ordered the curried udon noodles. The handmade noodles still had a touch of bite and the curry sauce was the perfect consistency to coat them on their way into my mouth! I really enjoyed the balance and subtly of the curry sauce.

Becks ordered the aubergine noodles which slightly to my surprise came served as a whole deep fried aubergine. Everything came served in some beautiful hand made pottery.
While we were eating a few locals popped in and out for a bowl of noodles. Another person bought in a friend to watch them eat a bowl of noodles. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but I got the impression that they were getting their friend to try a favourite place.

More than just the food that night, which was good, it felt like we'd had a cultural experience and were starting to get under the skin of Japan a tiny bit.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Palma, Mallorca: a civilised boys' weekend

Palma's cathedral
A few weekends ago Ed, Mike and I jetted off to Palma for our first boys' weekend since our adventure in Lyon at the end of 2015.

Friday was a complete washout with torrential rain all day. We made the best of it by hopping between a few nice bars, but I was beginning to wonder what we'd done. Had we chosen a dud destination?
Parc de la Mar / Lagoon in front of the cathedral
Ed and I woke up early(ish) on Saturday morning and headed out for a run along the coast. The sun had come out and a beautiful walled city was revealing itself. Any thoughts that we'd come somewhere duff were completely dispelled.

Palma has a compact centre with lots of narrow streets and small squares. It was perfect for exploring on foot and we were never far from somewhere that we recognised so it was easy to get back to our apartment any time that we wanted to.
Inside the merchants hall
We started Saturday off by walking down to the cathedral and then doing a loop of the Parc de la Mer / lagoon. We continued our drift west and stumbled across the Lonja de Mallorca, the beautiful merchant's hall with its spiralled columns and high ceilings. I saw a sign saying that there were great views from the roof, but unfortunately none of the corner stair cases were open to enable us to get up there.
After a coffee stop in a pleasant little square near the merchants hall we found ourselves in the Santa Catalina area and when we saw the local covered market I immediately wanted to go inside. There were lots of locals shopping at the stalls selling meat (fresh and cured), fish and fruit & vegetables. There were a few places to stand around and eat and drink at stalls preparing some of the fresh produce.
Mercat de Santa Catalina
After a lazy, and incredibly good value fixed priced lunch, we spent the afternoon drifting round more of the historic centre of Palma and checking out the few bits of Gaudi architecture that we stumbled across (below).

On Sunday morning Ed and I repeated our run along the coast on an equally bright and sunny morning. We saw people setting up for what we guessed was a local 5km or 10km race and quite a few other people out exercising on the path along the coast.
Gaudi designed opticians
Having pretty thoroughly explored the centre of town on Friday and Saturday we decided to head north from the centre. We had breakfast in Plaça d'Espanya and then continued north through the Parc de les Estacions. We were drifting without too much of a plan and came across the bull ring in the backstreets. There were high fences all the way round the ring and it had the look of somewhere which might be abandoned, but it was a very impressive structure so hopefully it doesn't fall into disrepair.
Bull ring
We made our away across to the San Juan Gastronomic Market for lunch before making our way back into the centre to grab our bags and then to take the bus back to the airport for our flight back to London.

Thanks Palma for the great weekend!
Colourful streets of Palma

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ski week in Wengen, Switzerland

At the top of the Shilthorn
Last week I was lucky enough to go skiing in Wengen, Switzerland, with my dad for the week. We had absolutely stunning weather all week with barely a cloud during the time that we were there. It made for some absolutely stunning scenery and with the lack of crowds on the slopes we could enjoy everything to the full. There were a few downsides, namely that I got a slightly sun burnt nose and combined with the end of the season it meant that in the afternoons the lower slopes could get pretty slushy. Although by staying high and picking the north facing slopes we managed to ski until 4pm most days.

My favourite run was bombing off the top of the Shilthorn on a virtually empty piste. The steep start makes you feel like an accomplished skier (which I'm not) before you drop into the bowl for some sweeping carving turns. Can I got back up the cable car another four times to do it again please?
Lunch in Grindelwald
I'm used to a ski resort being just ski lifts and slopes, so one of the things which really struck me was how much extra Wengen had a on offer. For the skiers there were several speed traps, timed slalom courses and fixed cameras around the resort that you could take advantage of. At the end of each day you could also get a print out of the activity logged against your ski pass for that day (number of lifts taken, a graph of the altitude you skied at, how long you'd been skiing etc..). It all added to the fun.

For the non-skier there were plenty of toboggan runs across the resort plus a zip wire in Grindelwald and over in Murren they were making much more of the James Bond connection that than I've seen on previous visits. All the attractions seem to be working as there were quite a few non-skiing tourists in the resort.
Timothy Dalton at the Shiltorn 
We stayed at the Hotel Belvedere in Wengen, a fairly solid 3* hotel. It isn't going to win any awards but was a solid choice. It is short walk from the lifts so being able to leave our skis and boots at the hire shop (Skiset) every night was a bonus.
About to hit the slopes underneath the Eigernordland chair