Category: Food

Bistrotheque, East London

“And now leave me in peace for a bit! I don’t want to answer a string of questions while I am eating. I want to think!”
“Good Heavens!” said Pippin. “At breakfast?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

As so many of our old food haunts have left us lately, Jeff and I are on the prowl for new places to fall in love with. When a recent local joint stopped serving regular brunch (they tantalize us with promises that the chef may choose to surprise us with it from time to time, those teases), we decided to go on a wander in unfamiliar territory this weekend to explore somewhere new. East London beckoned and my research indicated that Bistrotheque would fit the bill nicely.

 photo bistrotheque1_zpsingtxeep.jpg

It’s very much the kind of place I like. Tucked away on an unexpected street in a Bethnal Green residential area, if you don’t know what to look for, you could easily pass the entrance. And even walking through the sign-less door and up the stairs, you might have a few qualms that you’re still not in the right place until you burst out into a bright and open industrial space.

 photo bistrotheque2_zpsknp9elfa.jpg

We had to make a reservation to get in and it was fully almost the entire time we were there. Couples, families, and groups of friends all clustered together comfortably with the open kitchen in view, in keeping with the industrial aesthetic. It’s clearly a very family friendly place, in spite of the prodigiously stocked bar, and there were several children in attendance.

 photo bistrotheque6_zpseva5lubf.jpg

The menu is a great mix of typical brunch and lunch offerings, most of which with a welcome kind of twist. My avocado and eggs were severed on savory cornbread with crunchy spiced corn kernels and hot sauce. Jeff snagged something with chorizo (which will always call to him). I glimpsed some of the sweeter offerings like french toast at nearby tables and it looked decadent enough to warrant the second visit I’m already plotting.

 photo bistrotheque4_zpscvnvahig.jpg

We pushed the boat entirely out and grabbed some pudding after our main meals because they looked too good to not try. Jeff plumped for the creme brulee (usually my drug of choice) so that I could go for the blood orange panna cotta, smothered in pistachios.

 photo bistrotheque5_zpsdbenxh9z.jpg

The atmosphere is nicely urban, the food is flavorful, and though the prices aren’t exactly dirt cheap, the portion sizes are very filling. What more could you want?

Oh, a piano guy who plays medleys of Guns’N’Roses, Michael Jackson, and the Spice Girls while you munch? Yeah, they have that too!

 photo bistrotheque3_zpsu6cxv7ta.jpg

An Old Friend at a New Find

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Living in a city is exciting because there is always something new to see, eat, or do. The less discussed dark side of this equation is that often to make room for the shiny new stuff, existing shops, shows, restaurants, and venues have to go. Once you’ve lived in an urban center for a few years, you’ve likely lost a few of your standbys due to this cycle. We sure have. In the years that we’ve lived here, we’ve said goodbye to several favorites including The Lockhart, El Nivel, and Kopapa.

Some of these were bittersweet. El Nivel’s closing night was also the last night we stayed in our old apartment and attending it felt like the end of an era, our first three years in London finished. That apartment saw some heartaches, some triumphs, and was the place where a lot of hard won victories came to fruition and El Nivel was where we celebrated a lot of those triumphs and got through a lot of disappointments. We made friends with the owners and staff there who made it a point to know and interact with their regulars; through them we were invited to food festivals and introduced to new areas of the city. It felt like saying goodbye to a pal when that place shut up shop–to say nothing of the fact that we had to begin our hunt for good fusion/Mexican food anew. Suggestions welcome, see me in the comments!

Kopapa was a place where we celebrated New Years as well as our fourth anniversary (we’re now coming up on our eighth). It was conveniently placed in the heart of the West End so if we ever needed to entertain guests, it was a trusted stop in Theatreland. It was one of the first brunch places we indulged in as newly minted urbanites, and brunch has become (admittedly stereotypically) an important part of our family routine.

Whilst being nostalgic for our old favorites recently, I went on a bit of a google spree to find some new joints to try out and discovered that Peter Gordon, the chef behind Kopapa also has a restaurant on Marylebone High Street, The Providores. Actually, it predates Kopapa which a more experienced foodie would have pinged to much sooner than me, but let’s set that aside. Joy of joys, their brunch menu contained the same dish I fell for at Kopapa and have never found a substitute for since: Turkish Eggs. Poached eggs sitting on warm, whipped yogurt, with chili oil sauce on top. If it sounds too weird for you, do me a solid and trust me to try it just once–it’s a savory delight.

While it’s fun and important to always give the new a shot, it’s also occasionally nice to rediscover an old friend.

 photo Turkish Eggs_zpskxchqqje.jpg

Where the Pancakes Are

“The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.”
– W. C. Fields

Today is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day here in Britain, so it is only fitting that you guys hear about a recent breakfast find.

Welcome to Where the Pancakes Are, in Flat Iron Square. Fairly close by to Borough Market and just south of Southwark Bridge, this is another of those delightful little pockets where markets and sellers and food joints are springing up in tandem

 photo pancake1_zpsuiyklbbo.jpg

I’m automatically fond of most areas that contain food trucks but WTPA is charmingly located in a a former trainline archway. A number of these kinds of areas of London have been or are in the process of being redeveloped to shops, restaurants, or other spaces and some of the results are quite fun!

 photo pancake2_zps4sdfry6n.jpg

But you’re not here to read about property schemes, are you, kittens? You want to know about the carbs? I’m here for you!

 photo pancake3_zpsbf3oiqwc.jpg

Where The Pancakes Are is not a large eating joint, but there is a mezzanine to add tables so its apparent small space is a bit of a deception. If you turn up at the weekend, you may have to wait a bit, but get on the list because it’s not too terrible and there are a few shops and market stalls to explore while the minutes count down.

 photo pancake4_zpslglrenda.jpg

Pets and families welcome!

The menu is divided into savory and sweet options and you will have a devil of a time deciding which tickles your fancy. Jeff plunked for the traditional American while I went as wild as I could with the Hummingbird.

 photo pancake5_zpsvyxbs7ie.jpg

 photo pancake6_zpspqrgr0kt.jpg

 photo pancake7_zpsvfvxopsf.jpg

As it transpired, our marriage suffered a major test in the middle of the meal when I excitedly demanded that Jeff validate my enthusiasm for finding a good pancake place. His response was, “Eh, I don’t really eat pancakes.”

My reaction to this was one of outraged shock until he laughed and countered, “We’ve been married for nearly eight years, and you haven’t noticed that I don’t really eat pancakes until now?”

To which…oops? Spousal fail on my part?

 photo pancake8_zpsnnmvu1r9.jpg

Forget Jeff’s poor taste in breakfast carbs. He’s healthy and leans towards the protein, for which we may be understanding, even if he is misguided. If like me you are among the less than virtuous, breakfast wise, this place is a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning!

Required Eating: Cal Ticus, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

If you’re feeling peckish but tired of the main city of Barcelona, how about–and I seldom suggest this–heading for the suburbs? Hop on a train and ride it to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia–the heart of cava country–and take the short walk into town. It’s not a large village and there are signs everywhere leading you to the most prominent sites. The fact that this restaurant is included among those sites is not an accident.

The lunch we had at Cal Ticus was easily one of the best of my life and at about 15 euro a person, a steal bordering on criminal. Don’t let the simple facade fool you.

 photo Ticus1_zpsttxcncw5.jpg

There was a semi-set menu but we could choose between course options and there was not a single bad choice to be had. The ingredients were seasonal Catalan selections and the emphasis on cooking technique. It sounds basic but was in fact pretty mind blowing.

 photo Ticus2_zpszcqd3s0i.jpg

Mushroom soup with a slice of gooey cheese and Spanish olive oil.

 photo Ticus3_zpscbdtit8q.jpg

Handmade pasta. Technically Jeff’s but I ate a decent bit of it…while we’re being honest.

 photo Ticus4_zpsoohpimfe.jpg

A gorgeous slice of beef and perfectly roasted potatoes. Again, sounds basic. Again, could not further from the truth.

 photo Ticus5_zpspaaqvsj5.jpg

And finally, a traditional Catalan desert of a type of cheese covered in local honey. Its taste and texture was was similar to a less sweet and more crumbly cheesecake and it was both dense and refreshing at the same time. Paradoxical, yes, but true.

Do yourself a favor on your visit to Barcelona and swallow the train fare for the ride out, or make a day of it away from the city and take in the vineyards and olive groves. But seriously. Eat here. I mean it.

Crum, Barcelona

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

On the Carrer de Parlament is a delightfully hipster sort of joint that is worth checking out. Let me introduce Crum.

 photo Crum1_zpsgo0oq5ie.jpg

The menu is in Catalan, but they do have English versions for those of us whose European languages veer a bit more northern. True, embarrassing story about how French functions as my default language pretty much all of the time and I had to bite my tongue all week to avoid saying “bonjour” when I meant “buenos dias,” and uttered “trois” instead of “tres” to a bemused waitress at one point before finally deciding to keep my mouth shut and let my more Spanish competent compatriots do the majority of the ordering. Setting self-consciousness aside, this place does one thing and one thing only: potatoes.

 photo Crum2_zpspmztnipf.jpg

Whoops, I lie. It does potatoes and sauces; you essentially order the type of spud preparation that tickles your fancy and the sauce that you want to accompany it. There are handy suggestions but you are mostly given free reign–though the staff will voice their alternative opinions if you ask for feedback.

We pushed the boat right out and ordered one of nearly everything. Patatas bravas is a local dish of thickly chopped potatoes, roasted, and served with a spicy sauce that any tapas bar in the city worth its salt will offer…but this was an exemplary specimen. And it’s a good thing we got a bunch of things as it turned out we were more than a little hungry.

 photo Crum3_zpskmawyiby.jpg

Pardon the dreadful photo quality but I had to move fast you see, because…

 photo Crum4_zpsxzicxh1b.jpg

…approximately seven seconds later.

Barcelona: The Food

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

When discussing what we wanted to do on our holiday with friends in Barcelona, we narrowed it down to three major priorities: 1) eat, 2) hang out with them, and 3) precious little else. Tapas, traditional Spanish and Catalan food, seafood, random weirdness–we wanted to try as much as we possibly could.

 photo SpainFood1_zpsawiunhci.jpg

We were beautifully situated for local dining as we were in a residential neighborhood that had about a million bakeries and coffee shops, gastro pubs and tapas joints, and even a massive produce and meat market about two minutes away from the flat. We were spoiled, no question about it. But again, thanks to Kelsey’s boss travel prep skills, she had already mapped the gastronomic system of the city and we knew we had some spots that simply had to be hit, but we also knew where playing it by ear would most likely pay off in a fantastically good meal.

Welcome to Barcelona Food Week on SDS!

Carrer de Blai

This is a street full of almost exclusively tapas restaurants where a mini food culture or trend seems to have originated. All the food is bite sized and served on slices of bread, held together with a skewer. You can eat as much or as little as you want as you pay based on unit and your skewers are tallied at the end of your meal–prices can be indicated by different colored sticks–and you can either call it a night…or head to the next joint to see what they have on offer. Guess which choice we made?

It turned out to be prescient as we also discovered a bodega specializing in empanadas and indulged in those as well.

 photo SpainFood4_zpsqzeedmo9.jpg

 photo SpainFood5_zps2atrgxds.jpg

 photo SpainFood6_zpsywvig9tu.jpg

 

Barraca on the beach

We wanted paella and we wanted it in the most appropriate setting: seaside. My photo quality may be lacking, but the food was not! Traditional dishes like gazpacho and seafood, expertly done.

 photo SpainFood8_zpsmpipp8zq.jpg

 photo SpainFood9_zpsfk4atpvw.jpg

 photo SpainFood10_zpskod57qoi.jpg

 photo SpainFood11_zpspohqjr7z.jpg

 

Pasapalo

I wasn’t blown away by this place, in spite of a plethora of good reviews, but I was also the lone group member to not have a burger and so my review may be suspect. The ambiance and style, however, were great!

 photo SpainFood2_zpsq89087ca.jpg

 photo SpainFood3_zpsatuuv9la.jpg

 

Street food

There is so much good and cheap food in this city that it’s almost unbelievable. On every street corner we saw sellers roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts, to be wrapped in newspaper and taken to eat on the go. And on every street there seems to be a place where you can get an excellent cut of meat grilled or roasted up for your pleasure. Meanwhile there is no end to the tapas options, and you can wander into the vast markets and come away with cones of traditional cured Spanish meats and cheeses. I repeat, handfuls of meat and cheese. Nirvana exists, kids.

 photo SpainFood7_zps5hz403n9.jpg

 photo SpainFood16_zpscv8x2bif.jpg

 photo SpainFood15_zpseohacsiq.jpg

 photo SpainFood13_zpszgziesur.jpg

 photo SpainFood12_zpsfwcnueus.jpg

 

Desserts

And finally: pudding! I shan’t overdo this one expect to say that there is a traditional dessert somewhat similar to creme brulee called crema catalana, and that your life is incomplete if you have not yet partaken of it.

 photo SpainFood14_zpstigwceni.jpg

 photo SpainFood17_zpsyhek4zwv.jpg

Food Find: Hawker House

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
― Orson Welles

We happened across Street Feast entirely by accident–specifically we saw a ton of (I assume) event goers decked out in 1940s dress with a military theme apparently heading into a venue once. Then I did some googling out of curiosity. Then I discovered the conglomerate of street food venues scattered throughout the city, one of which was nicely near our apartment. Meet Hawker House!

 photo hawker1_zpsdwjjcuuh.jpg

In winter the food is indoors and heat lamps keep people cozy, in summer the party moves outside to food trucks.

 photo hawker3_zpsvmhg5tnw.jpg

Burgers, brisket, tacos, barbecue, Korean food, deserts, Pizza, and mixed grill all mingle happily.

 photo hawker4_zpsky9bdzre.jpg

 photo hawker5_zpsn2eeb5sq.jpg

 photo hawker6_zps0z2wzlva.jpg

 photo hawker7_zps65ftkcpc.jpg

Hello brisket, my old friend. You have been missed.

 photo hawker8_zpsqgszrlf0.jpg

 photo hawker9_zpszljtgqhu.jpg

 photo hawker10_zpsoyuopp9c.jpg

 photo hawker2_zpsuxqvyziu.jpg