La Xocolateria, Cafe, El Born

La XocolateriaSocial media users have been sending La Xocolateria a lot of love.  It’s easy to see why.  It’s gorgeous.  That wall of stacked drawers everyone has been posting pictures of is even better in reality.  There are beautiful tiles.  Magical pockets of light.  It’s next to Cafe Kaffka on the picturesque mercat del Born.  It is a good looking shop.  The drawers we all wantThen it kind of unravels for me. Oriol Balaguer is a confectionary magician, turning out delicate lacquered cakes and coaxing chocolate into shiny deliciousness. La Xocolateria sells a handful of the cakes and some chocolates but the emphasis at this shop seems to be on ice cream, waffles, crepes and churros. Available with various toppings and/or hot drinks as displayed on a menu I instantly dislike for having too many options.The menu La XocolateriaThe waffles and crepes are cooked to order – which is the least you would expect from a chief confectioner such as Balaguer but the churros are not.  “But they are kept in a special chilled room and re-heated to order.” the earnest young man behind the counter assures me.  I just hear “re-heated”.  For me, with churros, that doesn’t work.  They have to be freshly fried, wet dough plopping into hot fat, sizzling and then catching part of your greedy mouth unawares and singeing it.  Read more of this post

La Guingueta, Chirringuito, Barceloneta

La GuinguetaBon Appetit did a small Barcelona feature in it’s May edition. I was delighted to see that I have hit most of their recommended spots (so this blog’s move to Spain is starting to get somewhere).  And then I read about how Carles Abellan – whose Tapas 24 I love (and posh restaurant Comerç 24 I visited for my last birthday), has a Chirringuito. And, and… He serves ice cream from Rocambolesc. Which is great because until now, I had been planning to travel to Girona for the day to try it.
The view - and the W is there tooYou can see the W hotel from La Guingueta.  The waiters are dressed in identical nautical themed shirts, enough of them have tattoos and patches of hair shaved off in weird places for it to seem a conscious part of the look.  I recognise 2 waiters from Tapas 24, one seems to have been promoted to manager, a charismatic girl with strange zig zagging hair cuts, who once whisked me to the front of the line at 24 when she realised that I was dining alone.The GuacamoleThe menu is made up of things between bread, slightly unusual (for Barcelona) things like chicken burgers, fresh pressed juices (€6) and guacamole (€12) or nachos.  The pricing is – well I find myself thinking, I can see the W but does that mean I have to pay W prices? Read more of this post

Eyescream and Friends, Shaved Ice Cream, Barceloneta

Eyescream and friendsFrom the folks behind Happy Pills comes ice cream with a face: Eyescream & Friends.  Shaved ice cream (imported from Taiwan- where they are crazy about the stuff).

Shaved Eyescream & Friends Read more of this post

Anna Durkes, Italian Ice Cream, Kreuzberg

Ice Cream!Anna Durkes in Kreuzberg makes gelato.  It’s smoother than your average Berlin kugel and creamier, its richness coats the mouth like butter.

The shop isn’t your average eis laden. With an island of cream painted metal furniture looking like oversized stick insects in repose at its center.  On one side is a pale blue wall with hovering plugs to power some hanging lanterns which have bright orange power cords.  In the window there are a couple of oversize plastic cups in the same shade of orange as the cords.

Flavours are concentrated around nuts and chocolates, to the point that a pair of young women come in and after saying how nice the shop is, leave because there are too many chocolatey types and presumably they were in a sorbet frame of mind.  Read more of this post

Chin Chin Laboratories, Ice Cream made with Liquid Nitrogen, Camden-London

NOTE: I am in London until the beginning of October, for Berlin Posts, please visit my Berlin, Favourites page or Places I’ve Eaten In 

My old DVD rental place on Haverstock Hill has closed down and an Italian ice cream shop has opened instead. Gelato Mio. In Berlin, Layla and I have a reliable one scoop daily habit that we indulge with a trip across the street to Der Eisladen.

On our first week in London, I took her to Gelato Mio, to provide some consistency to her life. A scoop for me and one for her (dispensed with a paddle because in London they are always trying to re-invent the wheel) came to just under £6.00.I find the ratios often don’t work here. Ice cream = pleasure seems like a logical equation but the real equation (at least for me) is ice cream @x price = pleasure. Once I pass a certain price threshold then I start picking away at the experience and decide it might not be worth it after all.

The balance (as with everything in life) has to be right, so you can charge more but you have to offer something superlative. Morelli’s in Harrods makes some of the smoothest most delicious ice cream I have had anywhere. I don’t give the expense a second thought, I even go down there just for ice cream sometimes. Read more of this post

Hokey Pokey, Ice Cream, Prenzlauer Berg

 You need to have a compelling reason top open an ice cream shop in Berlin.

I say this because ice cream is the number two most popular thing to eat here after sausages.  You can’t find a cluster of restaurants without an ice cream shop.  Everyone does it, young old, suited, barefoot, they are all licking away.  There is no shame in ordering a spaghetti ice (vanilla ice cream pressed through a potato ricer and topped with a strawberry sauce to mimic tomato sauce and white sprinkles to suggest Parmesan) no matter what your age.Ice cream in Berlin is cheap.  One scoop is usually around €1 (although two years ago, I remember it being €0.60 at the shop across the street).  The bright, crayola box flavours are often wacky; black vanilla, sweet woodruff or the mouth puckering German darling, from everything to face creams to health tonics to….ice cream – sea buckthorn.  At €1 a scoop, I am game to try most of them, cast off my shoes and waggle my toes happily at the simplicity of it all.Whenever I am in Prenzlauerberg for a meal (A Magica tonight) I often skip dessert and go for a decidedly fancier scoop with a lot of American / British flavours like Rocky Road, Banana Peanut Butter and the one for which the shop is named: Hokey Pokey.  But also a lot of superb single flavours – Sicilian pistachio, Indian Mango, Hazelnut and so on. Read more of this post

Sasaya, Japanese, Prenzlauerberg

Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc are both self-taught.  Unhampered by other people’s ways of doing things they were able to develop their distinctive food personalities.  What they don’t say (but I think is equally important) is how naive they were starting out.  Had they both been told that they would be working towards multi-michelin stars and helping to change the face of food in Britain I’m sure that they would have seized up with fear and found something else to do.Now, almost two years on (In July) I see my own naiveté in this blog.  I optimistically set out to find the equivalents of my London darlings in Berlin (you will find a list of them on my favourites page).  More often than not I came up empty but at no point did it occur to me to stop because what I was looking for didn’t exist.I was in London for almost a week  recently and riding at the top of a bubbly red double-decker bus, I smiled at what I had been endeavouring to do.  London is a city of choice and excess where anything you want can be yours for the taking – provided of course, you’ve got the money to pay for it.  A good portion of these affluent folks are young, 20-35 young (a lot of trustafarians to be sure accompanied by a minority successful in their own right).  Dinner on Tuesday at Yauatcha, I was flanked on one side two girls their cheeks still plump from childhood, their nails perfectly painted in pretty pastels and on the other by a young couple (the female part of which also had a manicure – prettiness appears to be celebrated in London). At Nopi on Wednesday the crowd was a tick older but a decade younger than you would ever find anywhere charging those equivalent prices in Berlin.I think I might have nailed it, the reason why I can’t find enough of the places I like here; informal, no tablecloths, laid back but knowledgeable service, small plates and above all seasonal, flavourful good quality food with international awareness.   It’s because if there are moneyed people here they are older. They all flock to places like Grill Royal or Borchardt.  Places where waiters hinge at the hips, use crumb scrapers and behave like petty bureaucrats grossly misusing their  teeny tiny allocation of power-  sticking you in the basement by the toilet (Borchardt) if they don’t like the look of you.I didn’t have a clue about any of this in 2010.  When everyone I knew sent me to Sasaya when I asked for Japanese, I wasn’t convinced.  ‘There must be better than this.  There must be a place like Dinings here…surely?”

Yeah…not so much…Originally, when I went for dinner, I found Sasaya to be too dark, the classical music too loud, the smell..boiled rice mixed with seaweed made my nose crinkle and the trouble in securing a table seemed exaggerated.  I returned for lunch last week (much to the bemusement of the friends who had recommended it to me 2 years ago).  I found I prefered it during the day, the rainbow theme is easy to spot and playful (the music is still too loud and they really need to crack a window open somewhere). Read more of this post


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