Random European

Delicious by DS5 – Shoreditch Pop-up restaurant

Often times, pop-ups are a little difficult (if not slightly pointless) to write about. By the time you get a chance to do so, they’re – poof! – gone. However, the one I was lucky enough to snag a table at a couple of weeks ago was a unique enough experience that it would be a disservice not to talk about. Oddly enough, it was for the launch of a car, the Citroen DS5.

The setting was typical of your Shoreditch pop up: big, white gallery space, hidden door, champers on arrival, lots of creative types waiting anxiously to be sat, but once led to our tables, it was quite unique. Three reasons why:

  1. Entry was a £5 donation to Fareshare
  2. For £5, you got a 5-course meal devised by Tim Anderson (of Master Chef and Brew Dog Camden fame)
  3. The menu was based loosely on the 5 senses, and incredibly posh at that

First course, Textures of Duck included a tissue-like dissolving in your mouth piece of crispy skin, a lovely liver parfait disguised as a quail’s egg and a deliciously leather-y jerky

Second course, Visions of Beetroot, was visually stunning, but not for me. I take beets in small doses, and this was way too much for me. Pretty though…

Hands down favourite was Flavours of Beef, a simple, but majestic fillet perfectly cooked and served with a delightful blue cheese potato puree and cashew butter.

And of course with any gastronomy-inspired tasting menu there has to be a bit of theatre.This in the form of Sounds of Bacon, made up of a pancetta lolly pop and pork rind popping candy (ie Pop Rocks). Good fun, both, although the popping candy made me want to reach for a nice cold Diet Coke rather than wine.

Also in the theatre department were the liquid nitrogen macaroon palette cleansers. I can’t say I enjoyed them any more than any other macaroon, but it was quite fun to blow ‘ smoke’ out of your mouth in between courses (as modeled by my friend George…)

Dessert – Aromas of Syrah – I was incredibly sceptical of. Peeling back the lid on the jar, you’re met with what can only be described as a cigarette barbecue. Not at all appetising. However, once the ridiculous odour dissipated, you were left with what actually was a quite nice chocolate ganache.

And in between all this, we got to play around with the car itself, and all its shiny buttons and features. It’s about nine million times out of my price range, but we had a lot of fun playing with the moon roof and driver’s seat massage function

By the end of the evening, suitably impressed with almost everything and having now been to two different Tim Anderson sort-of ventures, I’m wondering when is he going to get his own restaurant. I think it would have a lot of potential.  Surely something must be in the works…

Kopapa – Seven Dials

Generally, the only time I go around Covent Garden area is when I have tickets to the ballet. Otherwise, it’s too busy with tourists and full of mediocre and overpriced restaurants. Therefore, I admit I was a little dubious of Kopapa. It’s technically in Seven Dials, which is the area north of Long Acre with the cobblestone streets, cute independent stores and restaurants (home of Neal’s Yard Cheese Shop, for example), and the tiny deathtrap of a roundabout where taxis speed by without care or regard for the fleeing pedestrians.

Kopapa is situated at the apex of the SE spoke Seven Dials spokes. It has a pretty slick, but equally comfortable interior. Despite it being Tuesday, the place was hopping and we very nearly didn’t get a table. I’m so glad we did though because I truly enjoyed the experience, not least of which the service, which from start to finish was perfect.

The menu is small plates-based, but with no particular affiliation to a cuisine. In one menu you go from pork belly to bruschetta to soft shell crab tempura. It could have been a disaster, but on the whole (barring one stand-out miss) it stood up to scrutiny. A credit to executive chef Peter Gordan and his team.

The aforementioned pork belly (£8.80) was savoury and sweet, with sweet potato dumplings and chilli pickled plums, though the crackling lacked the crunchiness that would have made it perfect.

Spring rolls of slow roasted duck leg, Sichuan pepper, feta & guindilla chillies with tamarind aioli  (£8.10) were surprisingly meaty’, not just your average duck spring roll starter.

We also enjoyed the butternut squash risotto and burger, both massive portions and altogether enjoyable.

In fact the only true miss of the night was the calamari, which was unfortunately overcooked and way too salty – a real shame as the aioli it was served with was excellent.

Desserts were lovely, although there was a distinct lack of chocolate-based treats, if I’m honest. I went with the passionfruit brûlée and palm sugar tapioca substituting a mouth-watering honeycombe ice cream for the coconut sorbet it was meant to be served with (hate coconut, sorry).

I always feel weird gushing about a place, especially if I learned about it through a PR pitch (full disclosure below), but honestly Kopapa was great. With drinks and wine and a few extras, it wasn’t a super cheap meal (£120), but anyone on a budget could certainly scale it down. I’ll definitely be back.

Full disclosure: I was given a voucher in the amount of £100 to dine at Kopapa. Though I did not personally pay for the meal (apart from the £20 we went ‘over’), I was completely anonymous and the evening represented a typical ‘off the street’ experience.

Kopapa on Urbanspoon

Viajante (Second Visit) – Bethnal Green

I do tend to go on quite a bit about Viajante. I went once last year for the 3-course lunch, and it ranked no.2 in my best restaurants in London list behind Launceston Place. This time, I went back for dinner. A full six plate extravaganza, which  – with all the amuses and a special bonus dish sent over to our table by the restaurant’s lovely comms guy, Richard – ended up being about 13. It’s a lot to take in, and you don’t need to know my every thought, so I’ll be succinct. The pictures say a lot more about the complexity of what we ate, so I’ll let the visuals do the talking.

Part 1 – The amuse bouche and bread and butter:
Crab doughnuts, Thai Explosion II and Duck Ham

Mackerel with lemon and Wood Sorbet

Fresh Cheese with Peas and Flowers

Bread with Chicken Skin Butter and Black Pudding Butter

I’m still in love with the Thai Explosion II and it’s delicious crispy chicken skin, but what really took it for me was the Black Pudding butter. It certainly wouldn’t win any healthy eating awards, but my god, it was worth it.

Part 2 – The starters:

Squid with Ink, Pickled Radishes and Sea Lettuce

White, Green and Wild Asparagus with Milk Skin

Leek Heart with Lobster and Leek Consumme

By far, my favourite was the lobster. Shocking, I know. There was something about the charred leek and richness of the lobster that worked well together. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the asparagus, mainly because of the cold asparagus jelly it was served over. It was a difficult texture to take in.

Part 3 – The Mains:

Cod and Potatoes with Egg Yolk and Saffron

Iberico Pork with Cereals, Hot Potato Gel and Clams

The cod was fantastic (especially with the perfectly formed egg yolk in the middle), but the pork wins hands down for best dish of the night. I only wished it was bigger. The meat was so tender, I could cut it with a spoon.

Side note: The pork was so good, in fact, I’ve nominated it for a food competition that So Feminine is running to find the best dishes in the UK. I was asked a couple weeks ago if I wanted to submit something, and honestly, I couldn’t think of anything more deserving. If you want to check out the other nominations, check them out at So Feminine on their food page. Hopefully, Viajante’s pork will be showcased up there soon.

Part 4 – The Desserts:

Frozen Maple with Shiso and Green Apple

White Chocolate with Grapefruit and Lemon

Pickled and Raw Cucumbers with Milk Sorbet

Having a tasting menu means the server will always ask if you have any allergies. This is the first time I haven’t said cucumber, and what happens? A cucumber dessert. *le sigh* While the smell did turn my stomach, I was assured by my friend that it was actually quite tasty. Out of the three, though, it was all about the white chocolate, bitter grapefruit contrast. Refreshingly different.

We finished off with Viajante’s classic petite fours including two chocolate truffles and the luscious Vanilla Cream:

All in all with two cocktails and three small glasses of wine each, it was a budget-breaking £220 for two (aka more than I’ve spent on dinner pretty much ever).  It was lovely from beginning to end, and it’s no wonder the restaurant earned its first Michelin star last year. However, next time, I will probably stick to the slightly more manageable lunch or go to The Corner Room (the newest Viajante venture I can’t wait to try)

Viajante on Urbanspoon

Belgo Noord – Chalk Farm

I’m no stranger to Belgo’s Lobsterfest. Taking place every June, the Belgian restaurant chain stops pushing their ‘moules et frites’ and goes full-on crustacean. I’ve been invited the past two years to take part, and every year it gets better.

This time, DQ and I were invited to a Belgo Lobster Quiz* in celebration. Yes, an entire quiz solely about lobsters. Despite my lobster research just hours before dinner, we lost. Badly.

Luckily the food was much more of a winner. I started out with the Lobster Bisque (£6.35):

Creamy, rich, buttery and more creamy…Usually I have trouble finishing a bisque because of those, and this was no exception. However, I take that as a good thing.

DQ, not being a fan of pretty much anything creamy, started with the Warm salad of smoked bacon, shredded duck, eggs & black pudding with garlic croutons and a Dijon mustard dressing (£6.50):

I really really really liked this, and luckily he did too. The saltiness of the black pudding was a perfect complement to the mustard dressing. Highly recommended.

And on to the main event: lobster

We tried the two mains available during Lobsterfest: Surf and Turf (£21.95) and Whole Lobster (£24.95)

With any lobster, you can’t expect to go in and not get your hands a little dirty. The more buttery and rich, the better, right? Both lobsters were tender, sweet enough and deliciously messy. Naturally, Belgo provides a ridiculous amount of napkins and wetwipes, though, so no complaints there.

For dessert, naturally some nibbles of Belgian Waffles with white and milk chocolate dipping sauces:

The main waffle dessert on the menu is £5.50 and comes with ice cream as well. Trust me, it’s a lot better than the waffles you get on Oxford street (no matter how good they smell)

Lobsterfest 2011, goes on through the end of the month

Belgo Noord on Urbanspoon

*I, along with about 20 bloggers, was a guest of Belgo for the Lonsterfest event

Senhora Mae: om nom nom’ing in Portugal

Trying to figure out where to eat in Lisbon there are a few things that keep popping up: Pastéis de Belém, pretty much anything ‘cheap Peri Peri’ (more on this later) and Senhora Mae.

Ranked no. 20 on Trip Advisor‘s best restaurants in Lisbon (out of 554), not budget breaking and located on the lovely hilly streets of the Alfama neighbourhood, I knew I had to try it.

Specialising in ‘modern’ Portuguese cuisines, Senhora Mae has had accolades across the board for their bold and innovative style. Oddly enough though, I couldn’t really see what was ‘Portuguese’ about the menu at all. It’s not a bad thing, just a bit of a misnomer.

Though the inside of the restaurant – with its exposed rock, beautiful oak tables and smart lighting – was beautiful, I couldn’t be tempted away from the Senhora’s rather modest patio with a view of the famous Tram 28 rumbling by every few minutes and the sound of Fava music lofting from the apartment next door. It was a good vibe.

I ordered a glass of wine and some bread with a lovely sun-dried tomato spread, but my eye was taken to the mains – odd combinations, that they were.

My immediate reaction was that the chef was pretty damn ambitious. The menu was rather large and there were a lot of different cuisine-types to boot (Duck burgers to Sweet and Sour Shrimp with Papadoms).  I was hoping it wouldn’t be disastrous (Jack of all trades, etc) and was eventually tempted by what sounded simple enough: Enrolado de Vitela c/ Amêndoa e Puré de Maçã – Rolled veal w/ almond and apple puree (14.00 €):

While it was not at all what I was expecting, somehow they pulled it off. Sure it was a bit pretentious; sure it was nearly a foot tall; and sure it had everything in it but the kitchen sink, but it worked.

The veal was sliced thin and tender, wrapped several times around a bit of spinach and mushrooms, housed in a crisp wonton and topped with a generous disc of goat’s cheese, a poached apple and caramelised figs. It should have been all wrong, but there was enough savoury to balance out the sweet. Naturally after finishing off the monster, I was stuffed. Dessert was absolutely not an option.

I’m guessing if my ‘simple’ rolled veal arrived GIANT, with everything but fireworks, the rest of the menu is the same – a recipe for disaster, surely. In fact, upon returning to London, I came across a 2/10 review from Cara at Ms Gourmet Chick for that very reason. So the only thing I can warn is: go to Senhora Mae with few expectations. You may leave happy, you may leave slightly confused, but no matter what, you will leave with a full stomach.

Largo de São Martinho 6
1149 Lisbon, Portugal
218 275 599

Viajante – Bethnal Green

Restaurants like Viajante don’t come around everyday. Meaning ‘traveller’ in Portuguese (and pronounced Vee-ya-jahn-tay, not Vee-ya-han-tay as I originally thought), chef Nuno Mendes’ latest restaurant is an absolute dream. If you read any London food blogs, you’ve probably already heard a lot of praise for Viajante. It felt like everyone in the city ate there within days of opening.  The buzz was tantamount to a Metallica gig.  So fast forward half a year, and I finally make it there  for the three-course £25 lunch and £15 wine pairings with the lovely Jaz. We took the day off just for posh lunch – pretending it’s just the sort of thing we would just normally do on a cold November Wednesday.

After being seated, we were served the Thai Explosion II as our amuse:

Exactly what it says on the tin, this little morsel did sort of explode in your mouth. The ‘explosion’ consisted of chicken and a quail egg mousse which was sandwiched between a coconut tuile and crispy chicken skin. All together, a really nice contrast of textures and flavours.

Bread and butter came next, but was unlike anything I’ve had before. Just saying ‘bread and butter’ doesn’t do it justice. The butter was almost tan and dusted with potato powder and bits of crispy pancetta and chicken skin. Vegetarians beware, this was a meat-lovers’ butter.

The starter was Charred Leeks, Hazlenuts and Milk Skin with Lobster:

Another perfect execution of texture and contrasting flavours, the poached lobster was rich, but not in that seafood restaurant buttery sort of way. It was delicate and light. The dish was served over a cream sauce that reminded me of squid ink, just more subtle.

Next up was the Duck with Mushroom Caramel, Blackberries and Girelles:

I must admit, I was a little nervous when this came out as it was so heavily reliant on mushrooms, and I’m not the hugest fan of fungi, but I needn’t have worried – it was marvelous. The duck was cooked to perfection, rare/medium rare with the sort of crispy skin that take ages to master.  The girelles were mild and the mushroom caramel sauce was divine.

We were then served our pre-dessert and palette cleanser, Sea Buckthorn and Burnt Meringue:

Sea Buckthorn berries are normally quite tart, but mixed with a lot of sugar and frozen – not so much. If I had to pinpoint it, I’d say it’s probably closest to a tangerine sorbet. But what really made this was the burnt meringue. Fluffy marshmallow gooey goodness with just the slightest caramelised crunch. A taste of both the sorbet and the meringue together made this dish pretty much the best orange creamsicle I’ve ever had.

In fact, I liked it better than the actual dessert – Frozen Maple, Toasted Oats and Apple with Panna Cotta Ice Cream:

It was the only dish of the day that fell a bit flat for me. The apples were just a bit too tart and the oats just a bit too bland. They chose a green-apple accented wine to go along with it that I found too overwhelming. The panna cotta ice cream, however, was excellent.

The lunch concluded with some tea and petit fours, which included Creme Catalane and white chocolate truffles that were, in a trite and overused phrase, ‘to die for’.

The meal, with the exception of my dessert, was flawless. I loved the open kitchen plan, the service, the china – everything. All in all, we paid about £50 a head with the 3-course meal (which is really 6 if you count the extras), wine, water (just £1 for all the sparkling or still you can drink!), tea, etc. It’s still not the cheapest in the world, but for a special occasion lunch in the most unlikely of places in East London, it’s perfect. One of the best meals of the year.

Viajante on Urbanspoon

Nimb – Copenhagen

My last night in Copenhagen, and I was looking forward to Nimb. Another recommendation from a London foodie, I booked a table for 8:30pm Sunday.

Nimb is located in the Nimb hotel, also home to Herman – one of Copenhagen’s best (and most expensive) restaurants.  It occurred to me as I sat down that the Nimb recommendation as a suitable replacement for the fully-booked Noma may have been for Herman, and not at the cheaper (though still dear for all intents and purposes), Brasserie.

I’m glad though, because after devouring nearly a whole pizza for lunch, I wasn’t very hungry. Spending Herman-type money would be a waste. Instead of even the reasonably-priced four-course tasting menu, I opted for a main with an option to get dessert.

To start though, I was given some well-presented bread, the spongy rye that I’d grown quite accustomed to.  It was a difficult bread served with a difficult butter, solid all the way through.  The wooden spoon/knife (spife?) it was served with, though classic Danish design, didn’t do very much in the way of cutting. No joke, I was forced to hold it a few second over the nearby candle in order to spread it on the bread.

My main was the Poached Western Sea Skate with Fresh Apples and Roasted Pure, Burnt Leeks and Spinach Vinaigrette of Chicken and Smoked Bacon.

Wow! What a mouthful – figuratively and literally.  I really liked this. The skate was flaky and light, and the apples (I think the Danes like apples) were lovely and sweet. Even better was the bacon, which couldn’t have been any more crisp and life-affirming, even if I’d been hungover.

I nearly opted for the Caramel Ice Cream, Butter Cream and Cookie Crumbs for dessert, but my stomach and wallet had other plans.

There are parts of me that wish I was able to try more. Though I really enjoyed my meal, I’m not sure it was an accurate representation of the restaurant. I always worry when the basics (bread and wine, for example) aren’t up to par and – because you’re a single diner – they seat you at the bar next to dirty kitchen utensils while the restaurant is pretty much empty. Yep:

Perhaps a better option would have been to come for the Sunday Brunch, an all-you-can-eat affair with lots of choices for 245 kr.  The place strikes me like it would be good for brunch. It’s bright, cheerful and overlooking Tivoli, which I’m sure is a charming view in daylight.

Reinwald’s – Copenhagen

Unfortunately one of the perils of travelling alone is the dreaded Saturday night dinner.  While I’m no stranger to independence, dinner time on date night is a little intimidating.  You have to find just the right place – not too busy, small table or bar seat out of the way, as to not attract too much attention.

After wandering around for about an hour, and being turned away from my first choice, Tight, I happened upon Reinwald’s. It was moderately busy, but not so much that I felt guilty for being a single party. There were plenty of two-tops and an interesting menu.  Interesting, because it was quite clear that Reinwald’s specialty was bear.  I’d never had bear before, so I figured ‘what the hell, I’m on holiday, let’s go for it’.

There was a bear tasting menu priced at 500 kroner, which was a bit out of my league for something I wasn’t sure I’d like. I decided to opt for the ‘small plates’, which were much more reasonably priced between 75 and 175 kr.

I started with the Potato Wontons with Bacon and Fresh Chive and Truffle Cream (95 kr):

What could only be described as the lovechild of gnocchi and ravioli, I liked this quite a bit.  Perhaps a bit heavy on the salt and sitting in a bit too much sauce, but it was good, and the cream made for exceptional dipping sauce for the bread basket.

For my main, I decided to do as the Romans do, and ordered the Minced Bear Boeuf with Blackberry Sauce and Onion Compote (175 kr).

Coming out looking like an overdone burger sitting in gravy, I realised within my first bite that I don’t like bear. Or, at least this bear.  It was dense. The onion compote lacked any oniony-ness and if there was any sweetness to the blackberry compote, I was not aware.  The bear burger itself had an aftertaste that took an hour and two glasses of red wine at my hotel to get of. Not a fan.

The bright side to the meal was the service. However, it really just seems be a Copenhagen thing, because I didn’t meet a single surly person during the entire trip. The people are just absolutely lovely.

With service, water and two glasses of wine, the bill came to 381 kr, about 44 undeserving  pounds. I understood very quickly how Copenhagen got the costly reputation it has.  Oh well, they can’t all be like Aamann’s.

Farvegade 15
1463 Kobenhavn
Tel: +45 33 91 82 80

Aamanns – Copenhagen

Travelling alone invigorates me. There’s something special about discovering a city street by street where you have no idea where you’re going or how to speak the language. It’d been a while – nearly as year since my somewhat-disastrous trip to Romania. I booked Copenhagen with higher hopes. Arriving around 5pm, I checked into my very small, very cheap room at Hotel Nebo, and set off in search of some dinner.

Before I left, I did the obligatory Twitter check to see if there was anywhere I needed to try. Within seconds I was recommended Aamanns for its smorgasbord and smørrebrød, a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich. What I didn’t know is that the traditional fare raved about is served at Aamanns takeaway next door to the brasserie, where I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time.

The brasserie at Aamanns is small – about 10 tables. As I walked in, I was greeted by a server who can only be described as a more attractive Danish Kenneth from 30 Rock and a server’s assistant who looked like a blond Zac Effron.

I love the decor, though. My favourite shade of green:

The menu at Aamann’s is only in Danish, which would normally be a problem if the staff didn’t speak English better than I do. I was taken through the tasting menu – 3 courses for 315 kroner, which is about £35.

I was presented with two types of bread – a seeded traditional rye bread and a spongy white bread – served with an herb butter infused with pork fat (yum!) and a light ‘regular’ butter with the faintest hints of horseradish and lime. Both were gorgeous.

Soon after, my starter of Fried Squid with Apple and Toasted Hazelnuts in a Sole Cream Sauce arrived.

This was a plate of a thousand amazing textures. Pieces of apple both fried and raw, soft hazelnuts, supple squid all sitting in a pool of the lightest cream-based sauce I’ve ever had. It was absolutely superb, and I didn’t want it to end.

My main, Braised Pork Neck, took on similar characteristics.

There were many different components, all with different textures – as if the chef had decided to include every step from smooth to crunchy, and assigned an ingredient to match. I wouldn’t say it was executed as perfectly as the starter, but it was certainly delicious. The presentation was simple: a layer of mashed potatoes served in a copper pot topped with endive, roasted peaches, braised pork, walnuts, watercress and fried hollowed-out potato skins.

And all plated up:

It was a healthy portion too. I loved the crisp potato skins against the tender pork. I was shocked that I had never seen potato skins prepared that way before. I hope it’s not the last.

Dessert was Poached Pears with Salted Caramel (my favourite) and Vanilla Ice Cream:

Presented in a sealed jar, the pear was cut into cubes and mixed with none other than a caramelised version of the spongy white bread I’d had at the beginning of the meal. Again, all about the texture, it was crunchy and soft at the same time. The salted caramel was a dream, and the vanilla ice cream was a perfect accompaniment to keep the dish from being too rich.

With a pot of tea, service and wine pairings for the first two courses, I spent 600 kr. If I had to do it over again, I’d stick with just one glass of wine- the pairings, lovely as they were, ran up the bill 205 kroner (about £25), but didn’t really add that much to the meal itself. Hindsight’s 20/20, though – and for the sake of overspending a few quid – I’m not complaining. This was a gorgeous meal, and Aamanns should be on anyone’s Copenhagen ‘must try’ list.

Beach Blanket Babylon – Shoreditch

Beach Blanket Babylon looks like someone took a beach hut, decked it in black chandeliers and velvet, and decided that it somehow warranted charging £11 for a drink. It’s the sort of place that tries really hard to be good, but when you strip out all the glitz, it’s still just a shack with a nice view.

I started with the calamari, which was served in a bamboo basket with a Japanese soup spoon full of aioli. The calamari was cooked nicely, but was largely devoid of any flavour in the batter, instead relying on the fairly rich dipping sauce to give it a bit of oomph.

We also had the liver pate, served with bread and a leafy salad.

The pate, looking more like bland paste, wasn’t very nice at all.  The presentation was horrible, and the ‘bread’ was nothing more than white bread with the crusts cut off. The sort of bread you can get in any random corner shop.  I was not a fan.

Luck turned with my main, a lovely seabass served over fennel and oranges.

The skin was crispy while the fish oh-so-tender. The fennel and orange gave it a nice summer freshness that meant I did not feel overstuffed after eating it.  I couldn’t have had any more or any less.

The fish and chips, however, were, like the calamari tasteless and overly greasy. The chips/fries were so overdone you couldn’t even tell they used to be potatoes.  The mushy peas (also served in a soup spoon) went largely untouched, due to the worst combination of no taste up front and a weird aftertaste.

I should have listened to others on this one.  The whole bill came to around £90 including 1 glass of wine, 1 beer and service (luckily I had a voucher or else I’d be hopping mad). I’d say it would be a good atmosphere to go have drinks at, but really, no amount of nice decor would make it worth it.

Beach Blanket Babylon on Urbanspoon