Sunday, 21 December 2014

Madrid Food Tour: Tapas, Taverns & History Tour

Team food tour in the back streets of the Hapsburg district
This is the final post from my trip to Spain earlier in the year. It's taken  me a while to get round to this one, but it was a great night bar hoping in Madrid.

After the epic food tour I went on in Istanbul last year, I was keen to take another food tour while in Spain. I found the tour in Turkey, not only a great way to try some of the city's best food, but also an excellent way to get orientated and pick up lots of tips about the local customs and culture.

We booked on the Madrid Food Tour: Tapas, Taverns & History Tour and after a long day visiting the Reina Sofia we headed to the meeting at the specified meeting Opera.

Having jokingly been building it up the chances of getting Kiwi James as our guide (after some YouTube stalking and spotting him the night before), it frankly would have been a disappointment if we'd got anyone else. James duly arrived and after introductions, and Becks disclosing she was also a Kiwi, we were underway.

The rest of our group was made of a lovely American couple who were on their honeymoon and a group of American women who worked for Pepsi and were in town for a conference. The four women from Pepsi were fussy eaters and drinkers. Why do you go on a food tour if you aren't open minded and want to try everything? Most odd.
Jamón ibérico de bellota at Taberna Real
Being in the tourist heart of the city was expecting a walk to our first location, assuming that anywhere close by wouldn't be authentic. However, we headed into the closest bar to our meeting point the Taberna Real.

James ordered us glasses of sweet red vermouth and a plate of jamón ibérico de bellota. A number of complimentary tapas hit the bar including olives, roasted almonds and the ubiquitous patatas fritas. As we drank and ate James explained some of the customs of eating tapas in Madrid and when it is perfectly acceptable to throw your olive pips on the floor (as it was in Taberna Real).

I enjoyed the vermouth a lot more than I was expecting to. It was the first time that we'd eaten the highest grade of jamón on our trip and it was fantastic.
Statue of Felipe IV
When we left Taberna we headed to Plaza de Oriente in front of the Royal Place where James told us a little about the history of Madrid. He also pointed out the statue of Felipe IV which was the first statue ever made where the horse is raised on its hind legs. Apparently Galileo was consulted on the maths.

We wound our way through the Hapsburg district, to Plaza Villa which contains a statue of Don Alvaro de Bazán one of the architects of the Spanish Armada. We headed past two more small squares before arriving at the second stop of our evening Bodegas Ricla, a small family run bar.
Outside our second stop at Bodegas Ricla
Inside the bar James ordered a bottle of white wine for us and sardines, cabresse cheese whipped with cider and meatballs arrived on the bar for us to taste. The meatballs are cooked by the owners mother (if I remember correctly) and were my favouite and mopped up with the bread which came served with them.

Leaving the bar we headed into Plaza Mayor where rehearsals for a show the next night were taking place. Inexplicably the grand Plaza wasn't called out as one of the highlights of Madrid in my guide book, so I was pleased that we passed through on the food tour. I was beginning to feel that I was getting my bearings in central madrid.
Meatballs in Bodegas Ricla
The final three stops of the night were very close to where we were staying and perfect for stumbling back to apartment afterwards. Casa del Abuelo was our first stop. They have two branches close together and we went for the less crowded bar on Calle Núñez de Arce.

We tried the sweet and plump prawns cooked in garlic oil with a hint of chilli and parsley and washed down with a glass of the house sweet tempranillo wine.
Prawns at La Casa del Abuelo
Our penultimate stop was a sherry bar called La Valnecia. Known as a bar where the resistance met during the Franco era, one of the house rules is no photographs. Probably less necessary now that Spain is a democracy, but the rule still remains.

Sherry comes from barrel and we had two carafes to share amongst our table; a white sherry followed by a red. Just like the vermouth at the start of the night, if you'd asked me, I would have said I didn't like sherry. However, they were both enjoyable, with the white being my preference. I remember a tapa of hard cheese that went down well too.
A top bottle of red. We saw it for sale in El Corte Ingles
After bar hoping and snacking we head to our final venue of the night to fill any remaining space that was left in our bellies. El Lacon that Becks and I had visited on our first night was to be our final stop.

We kicked the evening off with a bottle of Spanish red wine (above) that was fantastic. Even though we had it late in the evening and I'd consumed a fair bit before then, trust me on this one and seek out a bottle for yourself next time you are in Spain. They sell it in El Corte Inglés.

Knowing that we'd already visited previously, James made sure he ordered different dishes with grilled asparagus, fried shark with cumin and lemon and tender grilled pork some of the dishes arriving at our table.
Fried shark
Overall the food tour was a great experience. It was a good way to get orientated in Madrid (even though we'd been there for a couple of days already), understand more about the culture and importantly the customs in the local bars. It was a different beast the to Instanbul Food Tour that I had previously been on, I left this one in less of a food coma but more tipsy, but they are both experiences I'd happily repeat.

All of the places we visited during the food tour have been added to my European map.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Maddy's Fish Bar, New Cross

Ling and chips
Nine months after the part kickstarter funded chippy opened, I finally made it to Maddy's Fish Bar in New Cross on Saturday night. After a hard run session in Greenwich park that morning I was up for some guilt free indulgence and keen to sample as much of the menu as I could fit in.

I've heard good things about the chicken nuggets, but we both went for the classic fish and chips. Their suppliers catch dictates the menu and on Saturday night there was ling and whiting on the menu both came in a fresh dill and gluten free batter, served with chips and slaw (£9 each).
Whiting and chips
We both agreed that the whiting was the catch of the day having a thinner skin and a slightly firmer flesh. The homemade tartare sauce was great, although the chips could have been crispier.
I couldn't resist the large jar of gherkins (£1) sitting on the bar and had to order one. While Becks selected the minted mushy peas (£2.50). I'm not usually a fan of mushy peas, but really enjoyed this version with a mixture of crushed and whole peas with plenty of mint.
Minted mushy peas
Totally unnecessary, but we also ordered the pumpkin tempura (£3.50) from the specials board. Despite us not getting to the tempura until we had finished our fish, the batter had remained impressively crispy. Although professing to be stuffed, I nearly polished off the whole pate of tempura single handedly.

We had our eyes on the sourdough donuts, also on the specials board, but the food coma had descended and there is no way we could fit in anything else.
Pumpkin tempura
With the London Particular next door this corner of New Cross feels in safe hands with two young female entrepreneurs leading the revival. The drinks were a little on the expensive side at £3 for a half, but the rest of the food was great value and a cut above your regular fish and chips.

Maddy's Fish Bar
397 New Cross Road
SE14 6LA
Maddy's Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 December 2014

Capernaum, Brampton, Cumbria

Bacon, chorizo and black pudding salad with a poached egg 
While we were up in Brampton a couple of weeks ago a new restaurant, Capernaum, opened in the market place and we went to check it out on their opening night. Run by a Yorkshireman who has moved into the area, it is located in what was Huntingtons a couple of incarnations ago.

While we were waiting for our starters to arrive we were sent an appetiser of mini fish and chips to share. The fish and chips were a welcome little treat as we had to wait around forty minutes for our starters to arrive.

I kicked things off with the bacon, chorizo and black pudding salad with a poached egg (£5.50). The chorizo was the dominant flavour and rather over shadowed the black pudding. It felt like less could have been more with the salad and it didn't need quite so much going on. Becks' grilled haloumi (£5.50) was the favourite starter at our table.
Boeuf bourguinon
In between courses we were brought a shot of apple sorbet which was a nice touch and not something you usually get in a neighbourhood restaurant.

I chose the boeuf bourguignon (£12) and Becks the lamb tagine (£11.50) as our main courses. Both of our dishes were generous in size and I had three large pieces of tender and tasty beef. Personally I think they could get away with smaller portions of protein and include some vegetables or reduce their prices a little.
Lamb tagine
As we were finishing our dessert the chef / owner came round to chat with the opening night customers. It sounds like he and his family have jumped into Cumbrian life since moving up from Yorkshire. Competition has probably never been higher in Brampton with Brambles and Mr Elephant also recently opened. The owner was receptive to feedback and hopefully they will find the formula which works for them.

Chocolate and pecan pie


Monday, 1 December 2014

The Smoking Goat, Thai food in Soho

Fish sauce chicken wings
The Friday before last Becks, Ed and I headed over to the The Smoking Goat in Soho, a Thai BBQ restaurant I'd discovered via Instagram. I was hoping for the authentic Thai flavours I crave and haven't had since Chat Thai which was four years ago now!

I wasn't sure what sort of setup to expect from The Smoking Goat. It turned out to be a lively and crowded small bar, with people packed in tightly, either at small tables or on stools at the bar. It's the type of place that could have been chaos, but the on the ball waiters had everything under control.

The three of us were able to give the compact menu a good working over, ordering everything except the crab. First up were the fish sauce chicken wings (£6) which were crispy from being deep fried and the fish sauce glaze had a finish that was punchy enough without being overpoweringly fishy.

The most popular starter at the table were the scallops (£6 each). The scallops came served in their shells and had a lovely nam jim sauce that I couldn't help slurping out of the shells. We were grateful that a fourth scallop arrived by mistake at our table and the waiter allowed us to keep it on the house.

We ordered both of the BBQ plates on the menu, the smoked lamb ribs and slow roast duck legs (£15 each). The mains come served with som dtum and sticky rice. Som dtum is my favourite Thai dish and this was a pretty good version. I couldn't see the traditional pounded red scud chillies in the salad, but it definitely had some kick.

The BBQ meats weren't the stars I was hoping for. Our duck was dry and lamb ribs are a bit of a faff to share. However, I did appreciate the Thai flavours, liking the tamarind on the duck and the accompanying nam prik chilli sauce.

I was pleasantly surprised when the bill only came in at £32 per head as we had a fair amount of booze and 'small plate sharing' as a habit of racking up the bill.

I enjoyed our night at The Smoking Goat. When I need a hit of authentic Thai flavours to remind myself of my time in Bangkok I'll know where to go.

The Smoking Goat
7 Denmark Street
Smoking Goat on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 November 2014

Silk Road, Xinjiang Chinese in Camberwell

Mid plate chicken
In Sydney I could literally fall of bed an into the delights of China town, but authentic Asian cooking doesn't seem quite as easy to find in London. With its promise of authentic Sichuan food, Silk Road in Camberwell has been on my wish list for quite a while.

After a false start last year, when we got turned away, I planned this trip properly; assembling a group of friends and, crucially, making a booking. I had a strange nervousness that out booking would have been lost, but thankfully all was well and we got shown to a small table at the back of the restaurant.
Beef and onion dumplings 
I'd been teasing my companions that we were in for a night of offal, While there was generous sprinkling of tripe on the menu we were able to easily avoid, selecting a dish from most sections of the menu so we could taste as much as possible.

First to arrive at the table was a double serving of the beef and onion dumplings. We ordered two servings as at £2.50 each we thought we might only get three / four dumplings with each serving. We shouldn't have feared as we got a generous mound. The dumplings definitely benefited from a dunking in Chinese vinegar and I think if I was going to order two servings again I'd definitely mix up the flavours.
Hot and sour shredded potatoes
Next to arrive at the table was the hot and sour shredded potatoes. I'd expected / hoped for fried potatoes, but despite being cut like shoe string fries these potatoes had been nowhere near hot oil. They were hot, not particularly sour and just the right side of raw. It was an alien taste to my palate and not one I immediately warmed to if I'm honest.

Getting us right back on track were two large grilled swordfish shish kebabs. The fish was spicier than I expected with a ground chilli crust. After the hot potatoes the fish was the dish that tipped me over my pathetic chilli threshold and my brow began to glisten.
Fish shish
I was beginning to fill up, but the dishes kept arriving at our table with the home style aubergine and special cooked lamb with noodles. The aubergine, tomato and chilli was out attempt at a vegetable dish. It still counts of the aubergines were fried, right?

The lamb was our first taste of the homemade noodles and they were a delight, if incredibly long and a little messy to eat. As my shirt can attest and I'd like to make it clear for the record that it was two of my dining companions that splattered me! There wasn't too much lamb in the dish, but you can't complain at these prices.
Home style aubergine
Our final dish was also the best, the mid plate chicken (top photo). A large both of Shichuan pepper and chicken broth arrived at our, quickly followed by some more homemade noodles that were poured on top. The broth had the classic aromatic mouth-numbing quality that you get with heaps of Sichuan pepper. The small pieces of chicken were quite boney and a little awkward to eat, but you forgive a lot when the noodles and broth were that good.
Special cooked lamb with noodles
Silk Road is the type of place I love. Sure it's a little cramp, crowded and rough around the edges. But the food was fantastic and at £15 per head (including a generous tip and two beers each) it was amazing value too.

Silk Road has been added to my London eats map.

Silk Road
49 Camberwell Church St
Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Le Querce Italian, Honor Oak

Last Saturday night we went for dinner at Le Querce in Honor Oak for Beck's birthday, just over the road from Babur where we went for her first birthday we were together. I don't like to travel too far.

Last Saturday was also the night of the Blackheath firework display so I'd arranged a late booking to allow us to watch some fireworks from nearby Blythe Hill before dinner. The Blackheath display started ten minutes late, and I had a few moments thinking I'd dragged us up a hill on a cold night for no reward. But it turned out to be a good vantage point with beautifully clear sweeping views of the city. We were able to see both the Blackheath and Alexandra Palace displays pretty well and had the Crystal Palace display booming behind has as well.

The restaurant was full when we arrived and we were seated on a small table between two other couples. Luckily one of them was just finishing up which allowed us a bit more room once they'd left.

We almost didn't order starters, but I'm pleased we selected the salame, carasau e formaggio to share from the special menu. The hard cheese had a lightly smoked flavour, while the small serving of soft cheese had a heavenly texture. It was much smoother and creamier than a mozzarella or burrata. Beck's likened the texture to Dairly Lee triangles. I'd said the cheese we had yielded a little more, but it was a pretty accurate description, although gives completely the wrong impression of the quality!

My main of hake was also from the specials menu. The large serving of hake flaked apart and was served with a fresh tomato sauce and cauliflower. The drizzle of salsa verde gave we welcome lift and freshness and I would have liked more of it.

The star reason for going to Le Querce in my view is for their extensive selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets which are frankly, fantastic. We both went for three scoops. My tactic was to go for something classic - chocolate - a little different - pineapple and mint - and them something a bit more out there - Banana, Cardamom and Ginger. (Ok, so it wasn't completely out there, but I wasn't up for the onion and garlic.)

The star of my plate was the pineapple and mint while the standout on Beck's plate was the strawberry and cassis.

The service was a little slow towards the end of the night, but you can forgive them a lot when the ice creams are that good. It was good value too.

Le Querce
66 Brockley Rise
SE23 1LN
Le Querce on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Bistro Brunot Loubet, Clarkenwell

The rabbit and pork rillettes
Flicking through the Eurostar magazine on the way back from our recent trip to the Dordogne I read a short interview with Raymond Blanc. He was tipping a new restaurant in Clarkenwell run by one of his protégés Bruno Loubet. It was clearly a plug for a friend, but it piqued my interest, and I added Bistro Bruno Loubet onto my wish list. A recent dinner with school friends Rob and Joel gave me the opportunity to check it out.

I decided to order from the prix fixe menu (£20 for two courses or £25 for three) which is available if you are seated and order before 19:30.

The set menu starter was the rabbit and pork rillettes, pickled prune, cornichon and toast, which is also available on the a la carte menu. The rillettes had a lovely soft texture, but I didn't think a lot of flavour. Punch could be added via some of the hearty pile of cornichons or a dab of the surprisingly fiery Dijon mustard. I love cornichons so was happy to see such a big pile.

My main course was squid marrow with polenta and fennel. I was surprised at how tender the squid was and it went well with the oven roasted tomatoes and the bed of polenta.

I wasn't particularly inspired by the dessert menu, neither the choices on the menu nor the dishes which arrived at our table. I decided against the cheescake from the prix fixe menu and instead selected the apple tarte Normande, Calvados & caramel sauce (£6.50) from the a la carte menu. French bistros usually do some awesome tarts and bowls filled with lashings of creme anglaise, but I found Brunot Loubet didn't hit the spot for me in this area.

Apple tarte Normande

Bistro Bruno Loubert
St John's Square
86-88 Clerkenwell Road,
London EC1M 5RJ
Bistrot Bruno Loubet on Urbanspoon