Hostal Empuries, L’Escala, Spain

A girl’s weekend in Catalunya… after our big night out in Barcelona, we headed up the Catalunyan coast for some R&R by the beach. We stayed at the Hostal Empuries, a lovely four-star eco-resort on the water that has a gourmet restaurant. Starving, we sat down at this restaurant right after arriving.

We started the meal with an amuse bouche, a mussel in seawater foam, served with small vegetables. It was a spoonfull of briny goodness, but nothing amazing.

Then, the appetisers. Sara went for the white asparagus, served in a white bechamel with salmon eggs.

Michelle went for the grilled prawns, which had a nice, grilled taste and looked lovely on their blue plate…

I had the baby squid in their ink, served with broadbeans and mint. The squid was cooked so delicately that they were barely cooked, but light in taste, and really nice, with the more substantial beans and squid ink puree in the middle.

Then, the mains, and remember, we are in paella country…

I went for the fresh snapper with peas and cream. The fish was also very delicately cooked, so it fell apart in your mouth, and tasted really nice with the fresh peas. The sauce itself was nice with a bit of parlsey, but nothing to write home about.

The girls went for one of two rice dishes… either the risotto with broadbeans and jamon Iberico (what a nice combo! the salty ham with the fresh, green broadbeans)

Or the lobster rice, which was cooked in a lovely broth and gave a light seafood  flavour to the whole dish and leaving a gravy on the dish that brought the rice together… again with rice that was cooked al dente, giving the inside of the rice a nice bite while the outside was still soft.

And for dessert? After all fo that food, there wasn’t a need for a heavy dessert, so I got the thyme sorbet. I wish it had had a little more flavour, it had a slight hint of the herb, but not more. But it was a light, refreshing end to my meal.

Overall, some very good dishes at the restaurant, and worth coming back to try some of the other ones out! You can’t go wrong, whether you come to the high end or bistro restaurants at this hotel!

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108 Brasserie, Marylebone

A Thursday evening in the sun and catching up with a friend who’s been out of town for too long… along with a bottle of rose, we get a few bites to nibble on.

The Brasserie has a special for cocktail hour nibbles, three for £18.

We went for:

– the Dorset crab in lettuce cups, served with watermelon, avocado, and radish. These were delicate in the lettuce cups, and you could taste the crab quite well

– the fried calamari was good… it was small rings, which are typical over-fried and dry, but these were lightly fried and crispy – with the spicy aioli sauce served on the side, they were very nice

and finally, the heirloom tomatoes and torn burrata (which was not torn as far as I can see). The green tomatoes had a bit of tang to them, but really, it was their freshness that made the dish… you could really taste and smell how fresh they were… and there’s nothing better than a fresh tomato with a little olive oil and cheese!

And did I mention that the rose was pale and dry?

A lovely Thursday evening catch-up on a terrace!

The Marksman, Hackney

A dress fitting in Hackney on a Saturday afternoon… I had a list of places I wanted to try for lunch, but then, Andre reminded me of a pub we had passed with outdoor tables that I had mentioned was the best gastro-pub in London… not a meagre title!

So we booked a table and headed there after my fitting. Unfortunately, it had started to rain, so we didn’t sit outside, but how cosy is it indoors??

The menu is quite fun, with some unique or harder to find ingredients, which made picking a dish quite exciting…

Andre started with the home-cured Tamworth and mushrooms on toast… this was it, below. This is one of the nicest open-faced sandwiches I’ve seen in a while, and wow, did it taste good… The ham was cut into thin ribbons that practically melted over the mushrooms, a mix of tastes of fat and the cured ham… on top of thick slices of porcini mushroom, and what tasted like a mushroomy bechamel sauce underneath, all neatly stacked on a piece of toast.

This dish was really good. The combination of the salty and fatty sliver of ham, the pungent and firm mushrooms, and the sauce, all over a delicate piece of bread, was too much… every mouthful was a pleasure, as you tasted first, the ham, then the mushroom, then the saucy toast.

My dish was a bit different, but also, good. The cow’s curd, served wth burnt onion and bitter greens, was a delicious combination, with the creamy curd, the bitter and stringy greens, and the sweet onion puree, all topped with a bit of crunchy breadcrumbs.

Then, for mains… Andre tried the dumplings, which were explained to him as “basically, butter.” The leftover that comes from separating the butter is blended into a light and creamy, ricotta-like interior for the dumplings, then deep fried. These were served on a nettle puree and with crispy leaves and shaved Parmesan…  making for a good mix of textures (creamy, crispy and light leaves, crispy and heavier fried balls, and, basically, shaved salt (the Parmesan). I liked that the nettle was quite pure and didn’t have any added cream or anything else… it gave a slightly bitter, green contrast to the creamy dumplings and cut through some of their fattiness.

It was quite a rich dish, so Andre and I were happy to split it and split the other main… I don’t usually show “after” shots of food, but check out the inside of that dumpling! And the nettle!

The cod with smoked fish roe and monk’s beard. This dish was much lighter, with a number of different nods to the sea… the salty and fishy roe was especially good, as it managed to have a smoky and fishy flavour without too much creaminess (which typically overpowers the other tastes of a taramasalata). The monk’s beard was cooked in some butter (I mean, need I say anything?) and while not crunchy, gave a bit of bite to the otherwise soft fish and roe. The cod itself was very nicely cooked, and flaked away perfectly while not being at all dried out. It was all a nice mouthful of firm fish, creamy roe and strings of sea vegetables.

And finally, as it was raining, we decided that we may as well go for dessert, the doughnuts with a cinnamon cream. The little doughnuts themselves were a treat finger-sized and as light as anything, these popped easily into your mouth and melted. But, add a little of the cinnamon cream on… and they were even better! The cream had a mix of salted caramel, cinnamon, and freshness (I think it was apple sauce) in it, which made it decadent without being too heavy. When the doughnuts were done (and they ran out way too quickly), we finished it with our spoons.

So, is this the best gastropub in London? I am still partial to the Harwood Arms and Anchor & Hope, but the food here was quite good (with inventive combinations) as well. While it may not trump the other two pubs for me, I’ll definitely be back to try other things on the menu the next time I’m out east!

Ginza Onodera, St James

Quick catch-up with my old colleague, Rebecca. We always go for sushi, and typically head to either Kiku (right next to our old office), or sometimes to Sake No Hana, but wanted to try a new place this time, and Ginza Onodera, which is quite pricey for dinner, had a good lunch deal, with three courses ranging from £23-35, depending on what you choose as a main course.

The first thing I noticed is how pretty all of the dishes are… each delicately organised and presented. A for presentation!

I started with the spicy tuna tartare, which was small but quite nice, served on a shiso leaf with a few garnishings that were all edible.

Rebecca went for the black kanpachi carpaccio, just to switch it up… and was very happy with her choice!

Then, I went for a tempura course, which I somehow forgot to take pictures of… this was good, but like mixed tempura (vegetables and prawn) in any other Japanese restaurant… nothing to write home about.

Then the sushi and sashimi plate… again, quite like any sushi bento you would find for lunch in a sushi restaurant, but the quality of the fish was much better… and how prettily is it displayed?! Six pieces of sashii and five nigiri was just right…

Finish it off with a miso soup to digest, this was a perfect amount of food! For £28, this was a good lunch deal! I’ll definitely come back to try some of the other options on the menu, as everything else looked good as well!

Spring Restaurant, Somerset House, London Fashion Week Menu

A light and healthy menu for Fashion Week at Spring, where I was last time (and again this time!) with my friend David. This time, they started us off with a blood orange drink… quite refreshing and tart.

The main dish was a trout, with leaves and a buttermilk dressing. It was a light dish, with perfectly-cooked, flavourful fish, and delicate leaves and herbs surrounding it.

The blood orange drink was nice, but nothing to write home about…

For dessert, there was a rhubarb ice cream and a piece of shortbread… light and spring-tasting…

Overall, it was a light but perfect amount of food, with everything feeling very spring-like. Another great meal at Spring!

Nom Nom, W Hotel, Montreal

A trip to Canada for work and I get into Montreal pretty late the Sunday night. Luckily, I arrived just before the hotel restaurant closed… I rushed to the bar and ordered just before last call.

Nom Nom just recently opened in the W Hotel and has a cool vibe… and a pan-Asian menu, with little twists.

I started off with the onion soup dumplings, which were dumplings served in a broth (an onion soup, duh). I was expecting actual soup dumplings, with broth within the dumplings, but given the cold outside, a little soup was nice! The dumplings themselves were stuffed with something… turned out it was Brie cheese, which I didn’t realise, but it was actually quite nice, not too overpowering, just nice and gooey.

And then went for the tartare of the day, which came with grapefruit, green tea, and coconut milk. Today, it was sea bass. And sooooo good. This was quite a cool interpretation on a tartare, I loved the dusty, matte taste of the matcha against the citrusy grapefruit, the coconut milk tied it all together (I mean, who doesn’t love coconut milk?!) and the fish was neutral enough to take all of those flavours.

As it was late, this is all I ordered, as I didn’t want to go to bed on a full stomach, but I can’t wait until my next trip to Montreal, to try some of the other dishes on the menu!

American Airlines Business food… they’ve still got it!

On my last trip to the US, I flew American Airlines instead of my regular British Airways… and was pleasantly surprised by the food… going to NY, I had a full meal, starting with some appetisers… a red chicory salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette, simple but nice, as the cheese and walnuts were well distributed..

This was served next to marinated “heritage” carrots, hummus, dried fruit and some curry oil. Also simple but good… nothing too heavy and you felt like you were getting a healthy dish in!

Then, I went for the king prawns and chorizo, served with saffron basmati rice and asparagus tips… It wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world when it arrived, but same thing, it has good, fresh flavours (the chorizo was a nice complement but didn’t overpower the prawns in the spicy tomato sauce). The asparagus was soggy, but then, veggies tend to be soggy on planes, I’m not sure if there’s a way to work against this!

For dessert, cheese… nothing much to say about this, though the goat cheese was a nice touch! Overall, a solid meal!

Coming home, I got a single dish as I wanted to get some sleep on the flight – I went for the buffalo chicken, served with a corn bread and coleslaw. The chicken was…. okay. The chicken itself was nice and moist, but the fritture was soggy, so I took it all off… you were supposed to mix the spicy sauce and blue cheese on the side to create the buffalo chicken.. and it was really just okay at best. The coleslaw had been sitting under the soggy fried chicken, so was also kind of limp… not great.

But in the morning, when I arrived at Heathrow and headed to the arrivals lounge, I was in for a treat!

The menu of breakfasts that they will make for you is quite diverse, I went for the tartine with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and red onion… just like a NY bagel.. and it came with some avocado on the side! Brilliant!

So, overall, the service surrounding the AA Business Class trip was quite good, and I’ll definitely take them again versus British Airways (actually, I’m not sure I have a preference between the two, but it’s nice to switch it up sometimes!)