Saturday, 17 October 2009

Want to dine out in London? Go to Teddington!

Teddington is about 4o minutes outside London, and worth every moment of the trip once you find Brasserie Gérard. We ate there tonight, and were both of us - and we're not exactly unfamiliar with good restaurants - stunned by the level of the food and service.

The evening started looking promising when our waiter, Sebastian, asked for particulars about Bernhard's Bloody Mary - heavy on the spice? how much Worcester? - and when we looked at the menu, which contained no less than three versions of mussles: mariniéres, provencal, bretonne. In the end, however, we went with the chateaubriand with new potatoes and bearnaise.

The meat was tender, rosy, and tasted of meat and a touch of charcoal (yes, I'm difficult that way - I don't like my meat ruined with too much spice). The bearnaise was possibly the best I've ever had, and definitely the best I ever had in a restaurant: tarragony, not overly fatty, distinctly onion-y. The salad was nicely varied and subtly flavoured, the beans plain and very well cooked. We choose a red Saint-Emilion to go with it, which complemented the meat very nicely.

For dessert, Bernhard had the cheese platter, which had a spectacular goat's cheese (where are all the subtle goat's cheeses when I go shopping?), and I had the Crépes Suzette, which were orange-flavoured to end all orange-flavour.

Service was attentive, friendly, and very personal. We like this modern-style service where you're actually made to feel like a guest. And we will definitely be back - there's still the mussels to try. And the tajines. And the sole meunière. And the rest of the menu.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Park Road Hotel, Teddington

One of the interesting things about going to London when Bernhard is there is that I get to stay in hotels I'm much too much of a Puritan to stay in on my own. This is one of those, and it has a hotel restaurant in which we both ate on Thursday and where I ate alone of Friday, as Bernhard was out with his colleagues.

Both days were filled with an earnest desire for food and a lack of discrimination; Thursday started with leaving my hostel in Malmö, Sweden, at 4 in the morning, and Friday was spent transcribing German texts in the British Library. In both cases, I rapidly reached the point where I'd eat anchovies and call it good. I hate anchovies.

To our great pleasure, this turned out to be quite a nice hotel restaurant. While it can't hold a candle to Brassierie Gérard, it serves well-cooked English food and does so with friendly service.

Thursday, Bernhard had chicken livers, fish and chips, and a passion fruit creme brulee for dessert. I had a shank of lamb and sticky toffee pudding - unlike most food aficinados, I have a serious liking for British food - so sue me. This place has the sense to cook food without interfering to much: the fish tasted like fish, the lamb like lamb, and flavours were well-mixed and pleasant. On Friday, I had seafood tagliatelle, a glass of pinot grigio, and the creme brulee, painfully aware of how standard a woman-dining-alone-meal this was, and it was all tasty and cheerfully served. While there is also other excellent food to be had in the area, this hotel restaurant is certainly worth eating at.

Bernhard adds: Adding the hotel part into it, with good service at the reception, your bags being carried and a very nice room this certainly qualifies as the best overall Hotel experience I have had.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Tavel Rosé - Ogier - Bargeliere from Systembolaget

Warning: do not buy this wine!

What is Tavel Rosé? It is usually considered to be the only rosé that isn't a refreshing alcoholic beverage but a real wine with all the challenges and satisfactions that this implies. So since I am currently working on building a wine cellar here in Sweden I recently went to Systembolaget and bought 11 bottles of wine to try and decide what I wanted to lay down.

I had hopes for this one but OMG. Bland, boring, at the low end even of the "refreshing alcoholic beverage" range, let alone a Tavel. blech :(

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Trottobar, Halmstad

This was the big final dinner or the term, with all my colleagues. Free food is always nice, right? Or not.

The restaurant was rather empty when we arrived, and they suggested drinks to start out. Their recommendation, a rhubarb long drink, was in fact delicious. I could have had a lot more, and it's probably a good thing that I didn't. The dinner, now was another issue.

After a long wait, which I ungenerously attributed to their desire for us to buy more drinks, they told us they had made the wrong food for us - which, since we'd pre-ordered, was kind of surprising - and asked if anyone wanted lamb instead of beef. Well, I never turned down lamb in my life. However, when I eagerly went for that option, I didn't expect well-done lamb. The lamb may once have been a very good kind of meat, but now it was dry and boring. The cous-cous salad served with it was spicy and bland, which I must say is an achievement - just not one I see the reason for. I had opinions on what other people got, but I'll leave those to them - get your own food blogs, you!

The dessert was crème brulee, with which it's hard to go wrong. It is, nevertheless, doable. I ate mine in wonderment, trying to figure out what, exactly, one uses to get that texture. I still don't know, but I'm reasonably sure that egg and cream only won't do it.

All in all, a disappointing restaurant. I think I need to get more sozzled next time I visit, should there be a next time.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Reliably good food at a well-known address in Berlin

Hilda and I went to Berlin Easter 2009. I am writing this in October, so this post is backdated. On our second evening we went to Restaurant Hackescher Hof, of which I had fond memories from the time when I lived in Berlin. Since it was asparagus season, and asparagus is a bit of a national religion in Germany when it is in season, I of course recommended that we have asparagus. Hilda had always been amused by this, so I went to see whether I couldn't convert her.

Both of us had asparagus, I had it with mixed cold meats and Hilda had it with ham (cured and dried, not cooked) and in both cases with sauce hollandaise and new potatoes. For wine we selected an absolutely stunning dry traminer from Saale-Unstrut, which worked very well with this. The asparagus was possibly the best I have ever had and Hilda is now firmly converted to what I consider to be the king of vegetables. The asparagus referred to here is of course white asparagus, the king of vegetables, not its inferiour green cousin, which only is a prince of vegetables.

Hackescher Hof is a well-known address in Berlin and worth every cent that you are going to spend there. Reliably good, excellent service, and a wine list that will satisfy mainstream as well as eclectic wishes very well.

Service was very friendly and attentive and again the modern very personal kind of service that we both appreciate.

Gaucho rice

I am posting this as a separate recipe because it will be referred to frequently as a side dish, even though I gave a short version of it earlier.

Take 1 measure of rice (the size of the measure is determined by your hunger and how many people are eating). Put a bit of your preferred fat (butter or olive oil are my two preferred ones) into the bottom of a pan, add your rice and fry it without stirring until the bottom layer is brown but not burned. Add 2 measures of water, salt to taste, cover, bring to a boil and simmer gently until all water has been soaked up by the rice. The flavour is slightly nutty.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Chameleon, Dublin

Recently I went to a friend's birthday dinner in The Chameleon in Temple Bar in Dublin. I approached the place with a sense of trepidation. I had been there twice before and found it thoroughly uninspired and overpriced. It was basically cashing in on "Hey look! We are cool and Indonesian!".

So I met my friends and we sat down and ordered. Rijstafel (#3) of course, with one added dish. My friend's wife is cœliac and she mentioned that to the waitress, which resulted in all dishes that carried gluten (which for instance is contained in normal soy sauce) being prepared separately and just as nicely for her. And what food!

I am not going to comment on every dish in the rijstafel, but I'll pick out a few highlights:

Chicken satay cooked on a wooden skewer and served with a peanut (katjan) sauce:

This was one of the starters. Now usually that is bland chicken covered with a more or less nice peanut sauce. Not so here: The chicken skewers were intricately seasoned and the satay sauce had a near pure peanut flavour that complimented the spicyness of the chicken nicely. Far and above the best chicken satay I have had in my life.

Tipperary slow cooked belly of pork in a ketjap manis star anise sauce:

This achieved the rare feat of having a dominant spice that managed to balance perfectly with the other ingredients and the pork flavour. The belly was so tender that it was nearly falling apart on its own accord, albeit a tiny bit too dry. Overall it can only be called stunning.

Crispy marinated squid rings served with a sweet chili dip:

Lovely, light and crispy with the sweet chili sauce forming a perfect complement.

Apart from the food what stood out was the incredible presentation and the excellent service. One of the persons serving us was clearly the chef, who was very pleased with our praise which we heaped quite lavishly, and said that he was glad that his work was paying off. My friends commented that they had only discovered the place after having visited Amsterdam and learning to eat Indonesian food there, and that not only had The Chameleon markedly improved in the last half year, they were giving the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam a run for their money.

As far as I am concerned the only ethnic restaurant that they have left to beat in Dublin is Kinara on the coast road. That is one of the best possible eating-out experiences in Dublin - of which more later

Friday, 27 March 2009

Beef pot roast with rosemary, apricots and jalapeños

This recipe came out of a housemate and me meditating over a bottle of vinegar that I had gotten for christmas from another housemate. It was a white wine vinegar infused with apricots, rosemary and red chilies. So here goes:

You need about 1.2kg of stewing beef, I usually use round steak in Ireland. Find a big pot and inject some of the above mentioned vinegar into the meat. I have since ceased this practice, because I a) ran out of vinegar and b) found that marinating overnight yielded the same if not better results. Deseed 3 red (important that they are red) jalapeños and quarter them and put them into the pot. Also, add a 500g bag of dried apricots - do get the good californian ones, it makes a diference. Finally, add 2 or 3 solid sprigs of rosemary and 1l of plain dry chardonnay as well as a bit of white wine vinegar.

Marinate over night.

Next morning, take the meat out of the marinade, put the marinade aside by means of pouring it into a different pot and seal your roast all round in the pot. Pour your marinade back in and cook as a pot roast until it reaches the fall-apart stage. Remove the meat, add salt to taste and some cream, fish out the rosemary sprigs and needles.

Meanwhile ...

Put parboiled rice, salt and a bit of olive oil into a saucepan and roast the rice without stirring till the bottom layer is nice and brown. Add double the volume of the rice in water and let simmer.

Serve forth, the apricots are your vegetable side.

Wine with this should be a traditional fat Australian or similar chardonnay that has undergone lactic acid fermentation and has seen an oak barrel from the inside.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Ard Bia and Nimmo's

This day we had an early dinner at Ard Bia and Nimmo's, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, Ireland ( We were lucky to be early; that was the only reason they could find us a table. This is a crowded restaurant, for good reasons, and booking is recommended. Outside, you can admire all the awards they've collected over the years.

The bread was the first indication of what was to come: three different kinds, all of them delicious but the cinnamon bread was astounding. We rapidly consumed it all. Bernhard had a starter, as usual, and choose the day's special, chili squid rings on salad. The leaves were crisp and tasty, herbs rather than lettuce, with lots of fennel, and the squid just the right level of hot.

The main course was another day's special, tuna with tabbouleh, for Bernhard and, since I had decided, based on the bread, that I could trust this place to have a good cook, polenta cake with smoked Gubeen cheese, creamy mushroom, spinach & tarragon sauce. The tuna was rare, as it should be, and the tabbouleh flavourful, just as it should be. My polenta cake was creamy, fluffy, and resting in a sauce that mixed justt he right amount of flavours: none of the one-flavour-too-many which is so common right now for reasons which escape me. The mushroom and spinach dominated, with the tarragon nicely understated (tarragon in food, like in your garden, tends to take over if not kept within bounds).

We were too full for dessert. This is a lamentable fate.