Wednesday, 17 January 2018

108 - Copenhagen

One of the attractions of a short new year break to Denmark's capital city, Copenhagen (Kobenhavn) is the opportunity to experience their amazing culinary skills particularly with seafood. 

Nordic food has become fashionable in recent years featuring in several TV shows and reviews. Scientific Research at the University of Copenhagen has found traditional Scandinavian cuisine to be every bit as healthy as its Mediterranean counterpart with emphasis on locally sourced fresh produce and delicate preparation.

We started our tour at 108 which is sited in a former whale meat warehouse with floor-to-ceiling windows and water views; bare concrete and a semi-open kitchen giving it a cool Nordic style.

108 sprung from the world-renowned restaurant, Noma, whose Head Chef and recipient of 2 Michelin stars, Rene Redzepi, is often cited as the founder of the New Nordic Cuisine. The Chef at 108 is Kristian Baumann, once an apprentice of Redzepi, who now also boasts a Michelin star for his success at the restaurant.

Arriving on a cold wet evening we were warmly welcomed by the friendly and attentive staff who recommended a Gin & Tonic using this Scandinavian gin from Nordic Spirits Lab.  Infused with Aqvavit botanicals we were equally enthused by its great flavour - so much so that we purchased a couple of bottles at the airport to bring home. Akvavit traditionally contains coriander, angelica and lemon peel but it is the caraway and dill which really adds the the Nordic essence to this refreshing gin.

The menu offers plenty of pickled, cured and fermented ingredients on the 'no rules' menu, from which you pick as many dishes as you like. On recommendation from our table staff, all of whom were extremely well informed about the ingredients and preparation of every dish, we chose a selection of smaller plates and then one larger plate to share.  Every dish was beautifully crafted visually and each one contained its own flavoursome character.  Combined with their own freshly baked bread we were completely satisfied both in terms of appetite and flavours.

Glazed Pork with last year's Pickles
The Glazed Pork was 'melt-in-the-mouth' balanced with the acidity of the pickles. Last year's pickles are more mellow than fresh pickles and have a wonderfully dry chewy texture with lots of flavour.  

Raw Shrimp, Mushroom and White Currant
Jerusalem Artichoke with Caviar
The Raw Shrimp was incredibly flavoursome being lightly cured in the oil and white currant dressing.  The delicate white mushrooms, thinly sliced and arranged like the petals of a flower were a perfect match with the prawns and white currant.

Jerusalem Artichoke combines so well with the Royal Belgian Caviar to give exciting texture contrasts and flavour combinations.

Brown Beech Mushrooms with Smoked Egg Yolk

Our larger sharing plate was Brown Beech Mushrooms with Smoked Egg Yolk and Grilled Greens. Also known as Buna shimeji (Hypsizygus tessellatus), it is an edible mushroom native to East Asia but it is cultivated locally in temperate climates in Europe where it grows mainly on Beech trees.  Although bitter when raw, once cooked they are considered to be one of the most flavoursome of all the edible mushrooms. They were dusted in seaweed and dried mushroom before flash frying to give a Tempura style.  Crunchy, nutty and full of flavour they were perfectly paired with the subtle Smoked Egg Yolk sauce.  The grilled Greens were fresh and light  and topped with thin slices of grilled Butternut Squash.  Now, I am not a huge fan of the Butternut but I could eat these all day long.

All in all we had four smaller plates and one larger one, freshly baked bread and a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.  Together with 2 G&Ts and filtered water the bill came to £200 which is not cheap but so worth it for an exciting night out enjoying good food in a great restaurant.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

SANO TO GO; Fad-free healthy food

Just occasionally something comes along which is not entirely seafood but is so good that I have to share it with you.  Such is the case with Sano To Go a new concept in healthy 'grab-and-go' food which has just opened in London. I am grateful to lifestyle blogger, Georgia (She.seas) who visited them last week and has written this entertaining piece.   

It’s one o-clock and hunger has struck. You’re in the office, realise you’ve been sat at your desk since eight a.m. and the recurring conflict hits the brain (as it does every lunchtime): healthy or tasty? Well now you can have both, Sano To Go is a nutritionally balanced fast food joint with an emphasis on the idea that you can get a good-for-you lunch without the pretence, just keeping it simple with minimal processing and good quality ingredients.

The store itself is also a game changer in comparison to the usual pit-stop lunch spot. Picture bright open spaces, neutral textured wood and metal with accents of turquoise to keep it cheery. The lighting is the perfect shade of natural warmth and the hanging filament bulbs are encased in science-lab style conical flasks; a fun touch.  The kitchen is also on display where you can see the chefs buzzing around like bees in their hive of good food and equally good moods. Although the store is set a little off from the hustle and bustle of Chancery lane’s main street, the location is actually what makes chilling out at Sano To Go such a pleasant experience. We spend so much time battling the masses just to get to and from work, we at least deserve an hour of serenity during our lunch break, right?

Most importantly, the food. What I loved about this fundamental aspect of the café is that it isn’t overcomplicated, contains ‘normal’ ingredients and above all, it tastes damn delicious. The thought behind the somewhat bare interiors became clear as soon as I started stuffing my face: the food does the talking. Each ingredient in the dishes provides a rainbow of colours and perfect harmony of flavours. I had the chickpea and ras-el-hanout burger, topped with spiced tomato, turmeric cabbage, spinach and pickled red onion. The patty and toppings were sandwiched within a granary roll and oozing with tahini dressing, it was by far the juiciest of veggie burgers and yes, I was covered in it once I’d finished… note to self: accept the complimentary napkins next time. The flavours were delightful despite the messy after effects; a blend of Moroccan spices and meaty chickpeas with the perfect accompaniment of creamy tahini in a chewy, nutty bun. It’s safe to say it was worth the copious number of face wipes that followed.

Upon leaving Sano To Go, my eyes wandered toward the counter once more and clocked the pretty little array of less than guilty treats sat next to the drinks and salad pots. Though my stomach was definitely satisfied, my dessert belly had room for something sweet to complete the meal. I opted for the raw millionaire shortbread and I will most definitely be back for another. In a nutshell; there was a crunch through the light chocolate first layer, a criminally gooey caramel centre and a perfectly balanced firm base of biscuit. Sounds like your ideal millionaire slice right? Well expect to eat it again because this one contains only natural sweetness (dates, maple syrup) and the base is made from almond flour making it gluten free too. Suddenly dessert doesn’t seem so much of a blowout. What I loved most was that I didn’t find I was still craving that ‘real’ sugar sensation, my taste buds were perfectly satisfied and in fact I’d even choose these treats over the traditional version I used to get from the local bakery after school (and they were really, really good.)
To sum up Sano, (yes, we’ve nicknamed you now that we’re friends) I’d say it’s a great place to go if you are after something satisfying but fits in with a nutritious, balanced diet. It’s not pharmaceutically healthy, nor is everything raw and plant-based, but it caters to the ‘normal’ people (like us) who want to fill up on food we really enjoy; whilst doing good to our insides.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Casa-Mae Lagos Portugal

Restored townhouse luxury boutique hotel

Located in the heart of the rustic seaside town of Lagos, southern Portugal, Casa Mae is a newly  developed boutique hotel. The traditional building has been restored and transformed into a minimalist, chic, yet still very much Portuguese haven nestled amongst the historic surrounds.The interiors have been sourced to perfection; using local fabrics and furnishings, not to mention the stunning yet discreet swimming pool outside the main building. There are three buildings which make up the premises: the main old house, the cabanas and the newly opened modern apartments. 

Saute'ed Prawns

As for the dining experience, the bar was set high for us as we’ve been coming to this part of Portugal for the best part of 10 years and having previously owned a house in the area, we’ve learnt what little gems lie in the town serving up great quality and incredibly inexpensive seafood. To our delight, the unfussy menu did not disappoint here at Casa-Mae. Breakfasts consisted of modern, creative dishes like avocado served with fresh lime, dried orange and chia seeds, perfectly paired with rustic bread and poached eggs upon request. The lunch and dinner menus did not leave us short of choice, every dish looked amazing. Personal favourites were the sautéed prawns of all different sizes (a nice visual touch) and the open air ‘Churrasqueria’ which served up a delicious plate of charcoal grilled Corvina (croaker fish) with a side of kale and roasted vegetables.

Julio the farmer
Poached Monkfish & Broccoli
What is really amazing about the food at Casa Mae is its local sourcing with most of the fruit and vegetables being grown at their nearby farm. The farmer, the nature-loving Julio Machado, grows Kale, Strawberries, Cabbage, Beetroot to name just a few and hand rears chickens for delicious eggs too. The chickens here were some of the best kept we’ve seen! Not only do they roam the grounds freely but they also have a luxury hen house, complete with antique-style chairs and a chandelier fit for any French interior design show! Julio’s hard work and genuine care for his farm comes out in the incredible flavours of everything he produces, a lovely man with a simple yet incredibly idyllic lifestyle…we’re jealous!

Overall, our stay at Casa-mae has been an absolutely incredible experience. Not only is it in our favourite part of Portugal, styled to feel just like the town we know and love, but it is a friendly, calming oasis to kick back and relax in the dry heat of the sunny Algarve. We’re already counting down the days until we can come back !

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Native, Covent Garden, London

Scanning Time Out online for a new place to have lunch yesterday I came across Native in the 'Everyone's Talking About' section of their app.  A glowing report from Time Out reviewer, Tania Ballantine, encouraged me to stroll down to 3, Neal's Yard to find out for myself.

 Native is a first-restaurant venture for Imogen and Ivan who have gained lots of valuable experience doing street food and pop-ups but who also, in Imogen's words, are having to learn fast about running a restaurant.  If our experience yesterday is anything to go by then they are well placed on the road to success.

It was Imogen who warmly encouraged us into their small premises in the corner of Neal's Yard in Covent Garden.  There are a few tables at street level including bar seating which looks, not at a bar, but straight on to the cooking kitchen where you cannot fail to interact with the friendly staff.   There are more tables in the lower ground floor bringing the cover total to 32. 

Imogen suggested two seats at the kitchen which was great because we got to see most of the dishes being prepared and enjoyed discussing the finer points with Rob at the 'pass'. Their menu is small but perfectly formed with a range of country foods paired with somewhat unusual but interesting ingredients.  These included Wood Pigeon Kebab with Beet Hummus,Yoghurt, Pickled Cabbage and Harissa or Fallow Deer Steak with Cauliflower, Crispy Onions and Carrot.

I know this is a Seafood blog but I consider wild game to be on an equal par with fresh fish probably due to its natural origins, so forgive me if I indulge myself a bit.

We tried the Rabbit Dumplings with Smoked Bacon Dashi and Pickled Walnut.  This is great way to eat this underrated meat.  The meatballs were firm but tender with lovely flavour and made a great starter/small dish with the savoury Dashi and sweet Pickled Walnuts (which taste fruity like HP Sauce ).  Next we had the Slow Roast Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Wild Garlic which was amazing. The roasted cauli' had been seared in a pan and then laid on top of cauliflower puree.  I have never been vegetarian but this dish is a wholesome meat-alternative which is tasty and satisfying in its own right. 

Finally on to the fish which was Pan-fried Hake on Split Pea Dahl with a Cauliflower Leaf Pakora.  The fish was cooked to perfection by chef Peter who seemed genuinely pleased to get complimented on his skill.  As I always say the worst you can do to fresh fish is to overcook it and this beautifully fresh Hake fillet gleamed and glistened its whiteness from the plate contrasting with the yellow dahl.  The Cauliflower leaf (no waste here) Pakora was light and crispy and delicious. 

Accompanied by a crisp English white wine, Three Choirs Winchcombe Downs (Gloucester) 2013, together with great company, this was lunch with a difference which we look forward to experiencing again soon.  

Monday, 15 February 2016

Chotto Matte, Soho, London

Wandering down Frith Street in Soho last Saturday, we were looking to stop somewhere for lunch and stumbled upon Chotto Matte, a colourful, contemporary restaurant with a welcoming look about it.  Stepping into the foyer that welcome was exemplified as we were warmly greeted by the manager, Pasquale Baiano, who explained that all the tables were booked, but we were welcome to sit in the bar area to eat.  The service which you receive in a restaurant can make or break the experience and Pasquale's friendly attentive manner was everything one could hope for. Coupled with the flavoursome food combos and trendy ambience this made for the perfect lunch.  No wonder they were fully booked.  In fact, only the downstairs section was open for lunch and Pasquale explained to me that the upstairs would be open also in the evening and that they were still fully booked that night with 426 covers !

Chotto Matte specialises in Nikkei cuisine which is a fusion of Japanese and South American, in particular Peruvian, ingredients.  Now, I have sampled a range of food fusions over the years, some of which were a bit strange on flavour and also spurious in their origin.  Not so with Nikkei.  This fusion originates from times when Japanese immigrants to Peru wanted to create their traditional food but were forced to adapt to availability of local produce.  So expect the usual Peruvian ceviche ingredients of raw fresh fish with lots of lime juice and onion, Japanese sashimi with ginger and wasabi, along with more unusual vegetables like cassava, sweet potato and quinoa. Add to that barbecued Wagyu beef, sautéed fresh vegetables and Tempura prawns and you could believe you are in foodie heaven. 

The brainchild of restaurateur, Kurt Zdesar (formerly with Nobu), Chotto Matte has been open for just over 2 years now and is as strong as ever ( hence the booking rate ).  This is undoubtedly down to Zdesar's vision but key factors are the most important qualities in any restaurant, great food and great service. 

We tried the Beef Teriyaki version of La Nikkei Cascara which contained crunchy wok seasoned vegetables, brown rice and tasty succulent beef. We also ordered the Chotto Bento Box to get a good selection of the Chotto Matte classics.  This included Miso soup, Padron peppers den miso, Wild Prawn Tempura, Nikkei Sashimi Salad, Sea Bass Ceviche, Sushi with toppings, Spicy Tuna and Yellowtail Roll, Black Cod ahi miso, BBQ Chicken picante and steamed rice.

My favourites ? Actually it was the Beef Teriyaki Nikkei which was wholesome, full of flavour and great value at £9.95 (inc Miso Soup).  A healthy guilt-free lunch as they say !
Close seconds were the Black Cod, Sea Bass Ceviche and the BBQ Chicken.  But, if I am honest I loved it all.

Somewhat bizarrely the rest-room experience is becoming quite fashionable in London restaurants nowadays.  Think of the view from the urinals Aqua Shard, heated and musical toilet seats in some oriental restaurants. Chotto Matte is no exception.  Negotiate the darkness downstairs and you are struck (visually that is ) by the illuminated modern art wall in an otherwise darkish space with no obvious doors.  Then you notice the button to press which opens a dark glass sliding door to another dark space.  Sink units are flat dark discs, each with circular shaving-type mirrors above which automatically sense your presence and illuminate.  It's brilliant. 

What more can I say..... Great food, Great Service, Great Toilets ..... Go There !

Friday, 15 January 2016

Moxon's Fishmonger, Islington, London

Looking for fresh fish in London ? You probably can't do much better than visiting Moxon's in Islington High St. They have an amazing selection of fresh fish and shellfish, sourced by their own specialists at Billingsgate and around the coast. They even have their own fish smoker for Mackerel, Kippers etc.

Islington Manager 'Kev' has a wealth of knowledge with regard to the origins of their produce, how to prepare it and great tips on cooking. But then again he used to be a chef and he is studying marine biology in his spare time. I watched him expertly guide an Italian customer, who had a typical European rapport with seafood, through his purchase of Sea Witch and fresh Octopus.

The shop offers a wide range of produce which included Fines de Claires native oysters, Pacific Oysters from Carlingford, live crab and lobsters, shiny wild Seabass and meaty Turbot.

I bought some Loch Duart Salmon fillet and some beautifully fresh whole Squid which Kev double bagged with an ice pack for me to get it home to Surrey in tip top condition.

Independent fishmongers with Kev's skill, knowledge and enthusiasm are about as rare as Common Skate (ie nearly extinct) so get yourself down to Moxons and sample the freshness of the sea in the heart of London. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Brittens Guildford

I first visited Brittens in March 2014, about 6 months after it had opened.  I was impressed then and I am even more impressed now. I was lured back in a couple of weeks ago by the amazing lunch offer (2 courses for £11.95) and the food quality was so good that we decided to eat dinner there last week after a visit to the cinema. 

We enjoyed starters of 'Cured Salmon with dill, capers' and 'Chargrilled Mackerel with pickled beetroot and orange'. The salmon was beautifully cured with a firm texture and delicate flavour.  Its pale orange colour gave a clue that it was sourced from a high quality fish farm.  The fresh mackerel was amazing with crisp skin and not too oily (a sign of freshness). This had been expertly fileted as there were no bones, the pin bones having been removed using the 'V'-cut method. The acidity of the pickled beetroot and fresh orange cut nicely through the natural oil of the fish.

For main we had the Cornish Pollock with mussels, cider cream and spinach. Again cooked perfectly, the fish was succulent and tasty with juicy mussels adding interest. The addition of the cider cream was genius as it lifted the overall flavour of the dish. Pollock is commonly found in UK waters and is a considered a sustainable alternative to Cod or Haddock. Its natural flavour is a little more bland than its cod family relatives so sauces, such as the cider cream here, can be used to enhance it. The UK species (Pollachius pollachius) is a distant relative of the Alaskan (Walleye) Pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) which is one of the most important commercial fisheries in the world.

Daniel Britten is a highly accomplished chef and has honed his skills as a restaurateur since he appeared on Masterchef in 2008.  The Guildford restaurant is elegant with great food and service.  His dishes are interesting but not over elaborate and above all he uses fresh (often local) ingredients in combinations where the flavour of final dish is more than the sum of the individual parts.