Quimet & Quimet, Cold Tapas, Poble Sec

Quimet & QuimetHow often do you find yourself in this situation: you’ve done a monster shop, been to the market, thumbed through the latest issue of Bon Appetit and watched some food program on your BBCiPlayer when hunger pops by and says – “So hey, what’s for lunch?”  There is no urgency at first but then the purring turns to growling before you know it, all your cupboard doors gape open, full to splitting point and you have no idea what to eat.

I bet that has never happened to any of the ladies working the cold tapas bar at Quimet & Quimet.  Not one single time.

No, these ladies (I count 4), wedged neatly between a narrow bar and a towering shelf of canned goods and bottles,  pass out plate after plate of enticing tapa and montaditos (something like an hors d’oeuvres on bread but way too big to manage in one or two bites) which are seemingly conjured from thin air.  Sure, there is a glass fronted cabinet with all manner of sea things but where are the chefs doing the assembling? Quimet and Quimet

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Public Market, Vilanova i la Geltrú

Mercat Public, VilanovaRight now, the proverbial deer and I have a lot more in common besides our big brown eyes.  After spending three years complaining that there is nothing to eat but chicken and mince I am now at a loss for words (and recipes).  Catalunya is rich beyond anything I’ve ever seen.  The variety of food, be it from land or sea, is astonishing and bewildering.

Tomatoes and beansEveryone knows about the Boqueira Market in Barcelona but I find that easing myself gently into, say, the Public Market of Vilanova is a good start.  To begin with, it is entirely made up of the local population, most of whom will only converse in Catalan.  There is an elderly woman with long white hair pinned up in a loose chignon selling Cava, tomatoes and green beans.   I buy 5 of her bruised ugly tomatoes, confident that they will prove to be the best I’ve had all summer (they are) and all the while she rattles on in Catalan and calls me ‘nena‘ (girl child).  The effect of which is momentarily transformative.  For almost five years now, I’ve been a mother.  My mind is resolutely practical, entirely unflappable, with an astounding amount of ‘fear not little one for here is an adult with a plan’ stowed away to be doled out with great generosity as my girls peel at that many layers of life.  When this lovely Cava seller calls me child, I have a glimpse of my mind, uncluttered and wide open as it had been once upon a time when I was the little girl. mackerel Read more of this post

Out and About in Barcelona – Spain

BarcelonaThis last-minute trip to Barcelona was not meant to be about eating but of course with me: food always finds a way in.

It started on the first night, my husband and I went to meet my father for dinner somewhere, only for the two of us to be whisked off to the 2 Michelin starred Enoteca as my father grinned mischievously and waved us off “You two don’t spend any time alone together!” (It’s true, we rarely do. And I’ve read on all those blogs about the importance of date night but getting my roots done is equally important and I never get to do that either!)

At my insistence, while my husband stared wistfully at the listing of a simple plate of Jamon Iberico, we went for the tasting menu. (My reasoning being that it was better value.) The tasting menu was inspired by the Mediterranean so my husband suffered through quite a few for professional-gourmet-eaters’-only type of dishes. Like a mollusk injected with liquid so that it spurted impolitely when placed in the mouth, followed by what looked like a donut (yay!) but turned out to be filled with a warm reduction of shellfish (gah! even for me, that was challenging). After sitting through 8 courses of that, I looked at my husband, cheeks filled with bread as he tried to dull the vivid seafood impressions and thought, “Wow, this guy must really love me to sit through all this!”Enoteca

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Restaurant Story, London Bridge

Restaurant StoryThe purpose of my trip to London is ostensibly to have my yearly dental check up. That I am able to breakfast, lunch and dinner with old friends is a bonus. And treating myself to Dinings, Yashin, La Fromagerie, Rose Bakery and ‘white hotRestaurant Story is – who am I kidding? It’s the best.

Once I secure a lunch time reservation at Restaurant Story, I email my friend Paulina: “Wanna be my date for this?”  Somehow she finds time in her crazy schedule (she’s the head pastry chef at Ottolenghi) and brings me along an epic goody bag that includes homemade cordial.  (Yay!)  Lucky for me because lunch with a nerd in arms is infinitely more enjoyable than dining alone or with someone who eats solely for sustenance or worse still someone on a…a diet.  We  nibble on radishes Peter Rabbit style and suddenly she whips out her iPhone to show me a picture of Daniel Patterson (Coi), Rene Redzepi (Noma), Alex Atala (D.O.M), when they were promoting “Cook it Raw.” in London.  Like I said, nerds. Paulina's picturesRestaurant Story is unique in many ways. Its location, on a traffic island, means I walk past it without registering it. Once I am seated on one of the squat plush chairs, a table side candle is lit (a candle made of beef dripping which I will eat later) and before I’ve even figured out where the menu is (in the book on my table) tiny dishes start cluttering our table.  The sweetest most succulent green peas I’ve ever eaten, interspersed with orbs of black truffle, savoury oreo style cookies, a flopsy flower with a blob of green mousse in its center.  It’s strangely topsy turvy, even for a seasoned eater such as myself.PigeonWith a later engagement looming, we order the 6 course menu (£45) which leaves me staring wistfully at the tables who are on the 10 course menu (£65) – there is no a la carte option.  And it doesn’t matter at all because the place is at fever pitch.  Eating for sport, for pleasure, for culture: it’s very London.  A fact that the adjacent table of 6 men or the couple next to me, iPhone’s coming out with for every course – illustrate perfectly.  If the young staff is irked by this, they don’t show it but continue to smile and explain the layers that make up the deceptively simple looking dishes.  Sometimes one of the chefs comes out to give us even more anecdotes about our ingredients.  Like our potato that has been grown by a man who has been growing tubers for 20 years and excels at making potatoes taste of: potatoes.  There are miniature purple nasturtium leaves and many other herbs besides that have been foraged by the kitchen staff. Read more of this post

Glass, Contemporary Food, Charlottenburg

Glass BerlinPinch me.

I had a meal last night, a meal I would not have expected to find in Berlin for a while yet to come.  And I had it in Charlottenburg.

I was invited to the evening by Gal Ben Moshe‘s PR agent, Regine.  I know Regine personally, her portfolio of clients is enviable – her firm does PR for Tim Raue for example.  When I write this to Gal, he replies “She does PR for Tim Raue. But she also does PR for me.”  His confidence, his directness – part of it reminds me of my good friend Ilanit who comes from the same part of Israel as Gal.  The other part, well the other part makes me wonder “Is this night going to be as good as he believes it to be in his mind?”

And you know what?  It is.  It absolutely is.Gal Ben MosheGal came up with the name Glass 3 years ago, later, when he saw this location which had previously been a gym with blacked out windows.  He knew this was where Glass would be.  A kitchen had to be built.  It’s small, with a central island where the chefs come together for plating.

“Hmmm.”  I wonder aloud “This makes me think of Grant Achatz’s kitchen.”
Alinea? Yes, I worked there.”
“You worked at Alinea??” I retort, incredulous. How has this guy worked at Alinea and not even mentioned it? Again that confidence. One that can only mean he is not going to try to prove he is good by association, he is going to let the food speak for itself. “How do they do that crazy dessert that is plated on the table and moves? Is it magnets?”
“The tables tilt.” he explains “And yes, magnets are used.” In fact the tables at Glass are the same as those at Alinea. Same manufacturer.”Glass, BerlinWe are invited to sit down in the dining room. This time, I have been allowed to bring a guest and my date for the evening is Marguerite. Next to us is Ashley, a wonderful photographer based in Berlin and Saleema of Brocade PR.  We are a riotous group as we realize we have much in common (chief among them, a love for BBC Radio 4’s desert island discs).  The noise stops with the arrival of each new dish.A picture perfect dish of vegetables

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Lava, Deli, Neukölln

LavaThe storefront that precedes Lavanderia Vecchia is now home to Lava. A deli with mossy green walls and checkered tiles on the floor. A lone ham and 4 long salamis greet me when I come in. Doilies are pinned to the furniture at random intervals while barren wrought iron candle holders decorate the wall.

The space is large; I count 4 rooms one of which is also the kitchen. On Saturday afternoon, there are two tables besides our own but not at the same time. The customers speak English and I wonder if they have made the trip especially since outside, it’s mostly Turkish men reclining on fold out chairs and smoking effusively.Lava

The menu is small and scatty or one could also call it eclectic to put a more positive spin on it. There is a cold cucumber yogurt soup (€4.90). Spaghetti with vegetable Bolognese (€6.50) that is like a miniature ratatouille, one that uncharacteristically (and unfortunately), includes carrots. The vegetables are cut into brunoise, which shows me there is pride and care in the kitchen. The pasta has passed al dente and entered stodge town, which alongside the carrots, lets the dish down. Read more of this post

Du Bonheur, Patisserie, Mitte

Canele from Du BonheurFew sweet pastries have the ability to dispense with my good grasp of self-control – except for Canelés.  The outside made up of a maximum caramelized, crunchy, sticky surface.  And the inside, solid custard, flecked with black vanilla seeds, yielding.  It’s a creme caramel you can hold in your hand, improved by texture, beveled edges, sharp ridges – pockets of bliss.

Not that I had to battle with lost self-control since the last Canelé I ate was at Dabbous, almost a year ago (post here).Du BonheurExcept, there is this new place that opened up on Brunnenstraβe.  With a striking fuchsia pink awning and tea roses on the tables.  There is an exposed brick wall, rough and dusty  which sets off the slick white counter with glass thick enough to safely display diamonds.  Within the cabinet are elaborate cakes, striking enough that they look like large fancy brooches more than anything edible. Read more of this post

Barcellos Salon Sucré, Pastries, Kreuzberg

SucreéBarcellos Salon SucreBarcellos Salon Sucré is open 4 days a week, from Thursday to Sunday.  On those days, Eric Muller wakes up at 3 a.m. and works 14 hour days.

When I visit on Saturday, he is scooting around frenetically.  Having baked most of the pastries on display earlier that day, he is now in serving a steady flow of customers.  Most of whom speak French and appear to be regulars.  Muller addresses everyone with Monsieur or Madame and it seems to be part of the treat, for French customers to interact in their own language and non-French to resuscitate forgotten snipets and fragments.CrémantNormally, I don’t make people aware that I will be writing the visit up for my blog.  In the spirit of  preserving my instinctual reactions rather then getting muddled between liking the people versus the restaurant or whatever.  But in this case, photography is forbidden without permission so I begin to speak to Muller.

“Let me explain my philosophy” he quickly interjects.

“Life is short and money is not the most important aspect of it.  My wife and I decided to open this place.  She has her hair salon, I have the shop.  4 days a week, we work hard, close to each other.  The rest of the week we are free to spend quality time together.  And, December and January we close and go to Brazil (where Katia Barcellos is from) and spend time exploring.”

Pain au chocolatI’m winded by such a sensible awareness of life, of how to best parcel it up so that you are almost able to eat your cake and have it too.  I mean we all – somehow – are aware that life is short.  And  just as that awareness sets in, life ups the pace, so that it feels like you are stationary and it is hurtling past.  But kids, deadlines, mundane things keep you from stepping off to the side for a moment or two and thinking of where you are actually trying to get to. Read more of this post

La Soupe Populaire, German Food, Prenzlauerberg

The Menu at La Soupe Populaire
Tim Raue’s newest venture is at the Bötzow Brewery.  Championing German food (yes – apparently it’s possible) in the original space of the former brewery.

Two of us sit perched up high on leggy metal work.  Surrounded by Futuring, an exhibition by Eva & Adele (who were described to me as Berlin’s answer to Gilbert and George when I asked Sylee what on earth was up with the bald couple in drag?)  The sharp acoustics of cutlery and voices in the cavernous space are offset by the rain coming down in a persistent rhythmic patter.

Futuring exhibitionAt lunch time on Saturday, there are 4 tables occupied besides our own.  The customers are all german, slim, elegant and wearing navy.  The men have either allowed themselves to go silver, all the more to set off their naturally tan (not sunbed or spray on) skin.  And the women have silky blond hair, the kind that can be washed in the morning  and suffer no ill effects when exposed to 24 hour downpours.

La Soupe PopulaireI want to invite the female Maitre D’ to the bathroom so I can bop her on the head and steal her outfit: blue peep toe wedges on top of which she wears skinny trousers with a blue flowered pattern that looks like it would be equally at home on fine bone china.The ladies toilet at Bötzow Brewery

I resist the urge and apply my attention to the business of ordering.  There is the Prawn Cocktail KaDeWe (€14) which comes with prawns bigger than my thumbs, the dressing enlivened by punchy Piment d’Espelette (a spice I own and love often).

Konigsberger KlopseFor the main course, two handsome Königsberger Klopse appear wearing crowns of fluffy crumbs, a third sphere made up of thinly sliced beetroot nestles at the top.  Besides being the most attractive plate of meatballs I’ve ever seen,the perfectly seasoned mash that comes with them and the sauce they are bathed in are utterly delicious.

My dish is rabbit liver with tiny pearl onions, dyed red from the vinegar they have stewed in and manifesting more as an unknown berry than an alium.

Amuse of white asparagus, pork fat and home baked breadGerman fare is hearty stuff, even in these delicate portions.  Especially as we started the meal off with a plate of pork fat (Schmaltz) in place of the more traditional butter.  And yet.  It’s all been good enough to prompt me into dessert.

Bee Sting Cake at La Soupe Populaire Read more of this post

Aroma, Dim Sum and Chinese Food, Charlottenburg

AromaOn the 1st of January, 2013, my husband and I drove through the streets of Berlin, in search of a place to eat that was not Starbucks or located  in a hotel.

After 40 minutes of driving, I thought of Aroma.  Surely, Aroma would be open.

Of course it was.

AromaWho should we lock eyes with as we entered the restaurant but Luisa, Max and baby Hugo.  Lucky too as the place was full and we probably wouldn’t have managed to get a table otherwise.  I would like to think it bodes well for the year ahead, to bump into friends and share food on the 1st day of the year. Read more of this post


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