Bar Lobo, Fusion, El Raval

Bar LoboThe Tragaluz Group is a name that you need to know in Barcelona.  I will readily admit that restaurant groups in Europe can conjure negative associations: laminated menus in 7 languages, busking waiters impeding your journey, iceberg lettuce and shredded carrot in the salad – it’s not pretty or tasty. While the Tragaluz restaurants do have menus in 5 languages – they also have great locations, appealing design and food that is usually good if on the pricy side.  Unlike the Albert Adria restaurants, they are spread all over the city so you are usually not far from one.

Our lunch at Bar LoboWith Marguerite in town for the weekend, we duck off the tacky Ramblas as fast as we can, onto C/ Pintor Fortuny stopping for a brief minute in Chök to appease my daughter with a chocolate donut before continuing.  Bar Lobo does market fresh tapas and some main dishes.  We select 5 tapas.  Some for flavour: like the fried eggplant (€6.50), the tuna tataki with guacamole (€8.65) and the artichokes with jamon (€8.00).  Others for bulk and to temper the bill to a more acceptable level- patatas bravas (€4.50) and padron peppers (€5.60).  Two coca colas brings the bill to €20 a head which is quite an accomplishment for Barcelona (it’s so much more expensive here than in Berlin). Read more of this post

Ramen-Ya Hiro, Ramen, La Dreta de L’Eixample

IMG_5399There I am, in Berlin, going on and on about how I love little portions of food (tapas, mezze) and I finally get to a place where that’s what it’s all about and I find myself wanting a big bowl of something.  Ramen will do quite nicely thank you, especially if it’s going to stand up to Cocolo in Berlin & Koya in LondonRamen-Ya Hiro As with most places I favor, Ramen-Ya Hiro is tiny and takes no reservations; which inevitably leads to lining up for a table. Which (also like most places I favor) is small, and cramped, with help yourself cutlery or in this case chopsticks.  The eclectic music blares – it must be what the kitchen likes to listen.  It’s an open kitchen with two bandannad chefs welding ladles like they are flag semaphores, dishing out steaming bowls of broth. Read more of this post

Tickets, Adrià Brothers Tapas, Eixample

Tickets Bar, BarcelonaIn 1997, El Bulli, got it’s 3rd Michelin star. In 2002, it was named restaurant of the year. Back then, lead times to super-restaurant-stardom were still a matter of years, rather than months.  (Check out Alma: Best New Restaurant in America 2013.  Now, no sooner is the accolade laid on then the book comes out, all marinating time has been discarded.  I find the lack of build up unsatisfying, like eating before you are hungry.)

There was plenty of build up with El Bulli.  I watched Cooking in Progress (a film which proved that exciting food to eat is the exact opposite to make) and read Lisa Abend’s Sorcerer’s Apprentices.  But by then El Bulli had already announced its impending closure, dashing my hopes of experiencing a meal there.  But the silver lining is that Tickets opened soon after.  It’s not El Bulli but there are El Bulli dishes, you don’t have to drive up a windy road to get there and it’s much easier (but still very hard) to get a table.

Nordic voyage with vinegar 'snow'It turns dining on its head.  When I search for the adjectives with which to describe the experience, ‘delicious’ seems besides the point.  Instead “silly”, “unexpected”, “deceptive”, “fun”, “irreverent”, “textures” are more fitting.  Instead of a fork and knife being laid out in anticipation of the meal, I get tweezers.  While at Comerc 24 I marvelled at the use of large rocks as serving plates, here it’s all gravel and pebbles.  (I wonder, does the gravel get washed after every plate is returned to the kitchen or is it recycled?  How does one wash gravel?  Do they lay them out on miles of tea towels to let them air dry?) Smoky sardinesThe space is fitted out like a circus.  Aspects of it; like the plasma screens  running documentaries featuring Ferran Adrià and flanked by scores of Maneki-nekos waving their gold paws, are cringe worthy.  It could very easily not work, I would go further and say it should not work. Read more of this post

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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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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Chicago Williams, BBQ, Mitte

Chicago WIlliamsWhile I would argue that America’s soft power has taken some considerable hits over the last decade, its food culture is thriving abroad.  It crops up in the most unlikely places- like on Hannoversche Strasse.  A street that even a die-hard Mitte resident will struggle to locate.  There on the former site of BarCelona next to the cutsie Maialino is Chicago Williams.

Its walls are bare brick.  There are meat hooks to hang your coat on.  And a giant Beelonia smoker, hunched against the back wall like some sort of dormant beast.  Behind it,  “Don’t mess with the chef!”  is spray painted onto the wall.  (Because you might end up in the smoker?).

You place your order at the bar.  There is a wonky shelf, affixed at such an angle that the carefully stacked ceramic beer mugs seem sure to slide off with a crash.  There is a lot of humor in that shelf.   2 slushie machines whir and churn like fat hula dancers promising perfectly icy Margaritas.   When I try to order a diet coke for my husband I am told that it’s bad for you and they don’t serve it but would I like an Africola instead?
“What? And a platter of smoked meat is good for you?” I quip.
“It’s good for your heart.” Comes the answer. Read more of this post

Zsa Zsa & Loui, Sandwiches, Neukölln

Layla photo bombIf you want to find Berlin’s young entrepreneurs, you need to turn your attention to Neukölln and Kreuzberg. Two areas where you will find them cutting their teeth. (Probably as a result of a combination of cheap rents and a melting pot of young people hungry to try anything new.)

Take Zsa Zsa and Loui, a sandwich shop.  Sandwiches come with the choice of fries or a salad.  My order of a vitello tonnato (€6) is served on a round loaf of focaccia easily as big as Layla’s head (Shown photo bombing my title shot).  Initially I feel a little silly trying to negotiate the monster with a knife and a fork but I relent in no time at all.  Even as I discard one of the pieces of bread, I still struggle to bring down this behemoth.  As for the side of fries I’ve ordered, tiny.  I mean a pile of 15 or so (delicious and crispy) beauties.  While the side salad that accompanies the meatball sub, ordered by my friend might fare better as a garnish.  (Oh and that homemade ketchup, maybe not worth the trouble at home but SO glad they went to the trouble here.)Vitello tonnato 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

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

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