Satan’s Coffee, Third Wave Coffee, El Barri Gottic

Satan's Coffee, BarcelonaI’ve been on Satan’s heels for almost a year now. I showed up to a cute shop he was supposed to have a corner in only to find out he’d left. Then I heard he was opening up in a bike shop around the corner. And finally I found the shop in a kind of worm hole location I would never accidentally stumble across, even though it is a moments away from Mercer hotel and minutes from Las Ramblas.

Satan's CoffeeWhat a shop.  Wall to ceiling windows, thick glass, black Tolix stools – pivoted at an angle.  A shop that could easily be selling expensive leather goods.

When I arrive, the yellow bench in front of the La Marzocco machine is occupied by 4 Australians (have you ever noticed that they travel in packs?).  Behind the La Marzocco is a petit girl, struggling with an Aeropress. A battle that continues for a few more minutes before she gives up and lets her customers know it’s not going to happen. Profuse apologies ensue, to the English couple that ordered the Aeropress, to the 4 Australians waiting on the bench, to me. 10 minutes later I have a flat white in a takeaway cup rather than the cappuccino to have in that I ordered. I perch on a Tolix and take it all in. Read more of this post

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

Honey & Co, Food From The Middle East, London

IMG_3559I’ve mentioned that my father is Jordanian, I probably haven’t said that half his family is originally Palestinian. My best friend in High School was an Israeli girl named Jo.  He used to joke that he sent me to an International School and from all the many nationalities – I found an Israeli. To be fair to both of our parents, they never interfered in our friendship or tried to get political with us. Jo and I bonded over our love of illicit bacon, chewing gum anxiously after we had consumed the contraband meat – convinced that somehow our fathers would know.

After visiting Honey & Co (opened by an Israeli couple who both worked in the Ottolenghi group) I took Layla to the playground in Primrose Hill where there was a Hasidic jewish father with 5 children sporting curled payot.  When they left, there was a couple sitting on a bench speaking in Hebrew.  I dialled her number.

“Jo Joseph!” I exclaimed. “I’m surrounded by your country men and women here.”
“Suzan!” she laughed. Jo always laughs, it’s one of the reasons I love her so much. “How are you?”
“Oh my god. How could you let me get pregnant again? I blame you.”
More laughter.
“Don’t worry, it get’s better….in three years.” Another of Jo’s characteristics. She gives it to you straight, no garbage about the first 100 days. One thousand and twenty-eight days to go then…IMG_3556

Paulina told me about Honey & Co.  Paulina has mastered professional baking and aspires to all things molecular (last time I had lunch with her she was telling me that she had contacted Simon Rogan to get some advice on how to use a contraption that captures the essence of ingredients) it’s rare for her to get excited about things she can do blind folded and laying down.  But she gushed about this place and she worked with both chefs. So on her recommendation, I went.

Layla was being fractious, in 28 minutes I had a rainbow beetroot salad, stuffed vine leaves, orange blossom ice tea and a chocolate brioche.  Running out of time, I ordered the cheese cake to go.  Later, while freezing on a bench in Primrose Hill, I rewound the meal I had gobbled up in record time and played it back slowly.   Read more of this post

Dabbous, Modern European, London

IMG_3525In his review of Dabbous, Jay Rayner writes: “Oliver Dabbous is being hailed as the next big thing. There’s only one problem: you’ll never taste his cooking.”

Well I did. Because on the 16th of May, when I was seven and a half months pregnant with the twins, I wrote them (Dabbous not the twins, although it would have been nice to have some email correspondence to agree on acceptable sleeping times) an email and said I would like to come for lunch any day in September. I knew that by September I would be feeling a lot like Pandora and Dabbous was meant to be my hope in the chest of challenges I had opened up.

(My husband went one further booking a non-refundable, 6 day car rally in the south of France. “Networking”. He says. I say. Aha. I play Fabienne to his Butch – can you believe how young Bruce Willis looks in that clip?  My husband did say that I could / should come with him.  Which is a bit like Marie Antoinette declaring “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” when the poor people complained that they had no bread. This is what our trip looked like last June.)IMG_3532

Here is the thing about Dabbous; their lunch menu is £26! It can cost you that much to have lunch at Giraffe if you get enticed into ordering a silly sounding smoothie.

Dabbous serves beautiful food without the pomp.  My starter of peas features a mousse, a granita and tender tendrils. It’s so sweet, it tastes like they must be growing peas on the roof and picking them for every order.  For my fish course I had ling.  It was a pale looking dish, punctuated with 3 petal pink discs, which turned out to be slivers of pickled garlic.IMG_3531 Read more of this post

The Food Hall, Selfridges, London

Nothing opens the appetite like exhaustion.  A combination of physical and emotional fatigue seem to work best.  Today I ate a bagel with cream cheese and salmon, 2 hours after I had eaten breakfast and my stomach felt like all I had done was chew a couple of sticks of gum.  If anything it had made me hungrier. I moved on to the free cookie I had received when I had collected 10 loyalty stamps from the ice cream shop.  Nothing.  I polished off a packet of nuts and raisins. And it went on.

I have a lot of guilt every time I eat.  Not because of my weight (producing milk for two babies means you can eat anything and not gain so much as a gram of fat) but because of my teeth.

I went to see my dentist, whom I love.  He sat me down on his green chair, put the paper bib on, took a deep breath and asked me to give it to him straight.

“What have you been eating?” There’s an edge to his voice.

“I’ve been snacking.” I confess, sharp intake of breath but he remains calm.

“Go on.”

“I’ve been eating sweets.” I continue.

Haribo?” He almost whispers it.  My dentist equates eating Haribo to crack cocaine.

“God no!” I exclaim.  “No, shortbread biscuits, cakes things like that.”

He relaxes and has a look.  He tells me it’s not that bad but that he is prescribing me Duraphat 5000 ppm as a prophylactic.  It’s got 5x the amount of fluoride of regular toothpaste and should tide me through this turbulent period.

My obstetrician is similarly concerned about prophylactics.  What am I using for ‘protection’ he asks without a hint of irony at my 6-week check up before giving me a prescription for the pill.  Which let’s face it, is like giving a Bedouin a life boat in case the desert floods. Read more of this post

La Fromagerie, Cheese Shop and Deli, Marylebone

If money were no object what would you spend it on?I would eat lunch and do a lot of my shopping at La Fromagerie. (And have round the clock hired help for the twins and buy the Saarinen oval table in white marble – since I’m making a list and all…).

Of the robust deli brigade in London, La Fromagerie is easily my favourite.  They don’t pile it high nor do they have the colour range of somewhere like Ottolenghi (Oh! Do you know Ottolenghi’s new book, Jerusalem is out?).  What they do is put out a selection, say 3 salads and a tart out at midday, which they only leave out for a few hours.  This ensures that you aren’t served up  a green bean puckered with age or a wedge of beetroot that has lost the glossy veneer of dressing. There are warm mains, things like a melanzane or tomato soup.What they serve is always at its best.  The San Danielle ham I had was balanced at just the right pitch of saltiness.  The ribbons of white fat were starting to be just that little bit translucent around the edges from being at room temperature – it melted on my tongue.  The figs were soft and ripe, which is the only way they are edible, an immature fig is just gritty and thin in the mouth.  That was one dish of many like that.  The charcuterie plates with stocky cornichons vinegary enough to cut through the rich homemade rillettes.  The cheese plates with a small stack of crackers and a few wedges of apple, composed with the austerity of a Baugin still life.  Chocolate cake with a spoonful of cream. Read more of this post

Bubbledogs, Hot dogs & Champagne, Fitzrovia

Imagine being the person who opens the press releases and decides whether they are worth passing on.  There in the stack of burger places (how many more ways are there to present minced meat between two buns?) is a hot dog and champagne bar.  “Oh, that’s new.” I would think and pass it on.

Hot dogs were my favourite food as a child.  (Do you remember that?  Besides knowing your name, age and where you are from.  Your other vital statistics on the playground were favourite colour, food and animal.)Not that I ever got to eat them because until the age of five I was either in Kuwait or Bucharest.  On the few occasions that we would go to the US my father would have to ask in every McDonalds if they had hot dogs.  Later on when we moved to Athens, we could buy sausages  that were too red in hue and put them into crusty bread with non-Heinz ketchup and there was obviously no relish to be found.  It was the poor kids hot dog.  I would wait until International day at school and then get 3 hot dogs and a Welche’s grape soda.  Those American kids had it good.

I still like sausages.  I’ve even eaten them from the street in New York from those stands that allegedly don’t change the water (but that adds to the flavour right).  Then I found Gray’s Papaya and the itch no longer had to be scratched.

At Bubbledogs the hot dogs are beef, pork or vegetarian and are made to a house recipe.  There are 13 to choose from. Like the K-Dwag topped with kimchi, fermented red bean paste and lettuce.  To go with your gourmet hot dog…champagne, what else?It’s an odd pairing.  Is the champagne there to justify the price tag of the hot dogs (Naked Dog is £6) or is this a champagne bar that serves hot dogs in case you get peckish?  (There are 3 sides, coleslaw, sweet potato fries and tots £3.50).  Not that I didn’t think the hot dogs were good – I wolfed down my New Yorker (beef dog with grilled sauerkraut) and not just because I hadn’t fed enough money into the meter.  The dog was savoury and juicy and the sauerkraut better than any I’ve had in Berlin (including the one from the famous Rogacki). Read more of this post

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