Xiringuito Escriba, Barcelona

A weekend in Catalunya for my bachelorette party, whoo-hoo! We spent the first day/night in Barcelona, hanging out by the beach and relaxing, then having a big night of tapas and Barcelona bars!

But first, around midday, we headed to lunch along the beach, at Xiringuito Escriba, which is supposed to have some of the best paella… and we were not disappointed!

We started with some creamy croquettas and salad… if you ask me, the croquettas were slightly over fried, ie, they left them in the fryer just a few seconds too long so that they were over-crisped and slightly tasted burnt… but the insides were quite good, a nice, creamy bechamel with bits of ham… but because of the outside, they were slightly off.

The salad was quite good… a nice mix of veggies… and since there were five of us, we ordered a second one to share as well.

But let’s get on to the more interesting dishes… the steamed clams in white wine and garlic were light and delicious, the natural briny-ness of the clam juice mixing with the olive oil, garlic and wine, creating a sauce that you wanted to drink from the bowl…

And the paellas, oh, the paellas..

We went for the Escriba especial fish paella, served with all sorts of seafood, including mussels and clams, langoustines, prawns, and cuttlefish. The rice was perfect, nicely marinated in the sauce but perfectly crunchy. You see those wooden spoons? They’re meant to help you scrape the rice off the bottom of the pan, where it’s sticking, and you get to enjoy the crunchy texture of the rice, still hard on the inside but nicely cooked on the outside.

With this, we had the surf n’ turf fideo paella, which is made with vermicelli noodles instead of rice… and which I actually prefer, even though it doesn’t crisp up like the rice does and give you a crunchy texture.

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Viet Food, Chinatown

A chilly  day in London and the favourite Vietnamese is closed for renovations… what are we to do! We head into Chinatown in hopes of finding another place with pho. Viet Food looks good and quite modern from the outside (and inside!) and also has a prix fixe lunch.

So we order like always, I get the chicken pho as my main and the salt and pepper chili tofu as my starter. The main came first… my pho, which had a very perfumed and delicately spiced, with poached chicken and lots of herbs… a real hit!

The, later, my appetiser, the tofu, which was served with lots of chilis, onions, lemongrass and spring onions… the veggies were better than the tofu itself, which had quite a thick layer of fried… well, it really tasted like cornstarch. So not great. Next time, I’d maybe try a fried squid or something else.

But overall? Quite good. I would be back… but I already like the place next to our offices, the local. So until they change… I probably won’t make it back here.

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!

The Dumpling Shack, Spitalfields Market

A Saturday in April, the weather is warm, and Andre and I head to Spitalfields Market to change things up a bit… The last few times I’ve been there, I’ve walked through the clothing and goods market, but only can remember seeing restaurants lining the exterior of the market, all of them, proper sit-down restaurants. This time, they had erected a new structure with a variety of different food stalls in the middle of the building, from dumplings and Burmese food to pastrami sandwiches and roasts.

We obviously went to try out the dumplings.

Andre went for the prawn wonton dumplings in Sichuan chilli oil. They were as expected and quite good, with thin, delicate wonton wrappers and spongy prawn fillings… the chilli oil was a nice addition that gave the dumplings a bit of a kick, though the oil itself had more of a steady, fragrant burn to it instead of a temporary kick.

I went for the pork and leek shengjianbao, their soup dumplings. I didn’t realise at the time that they were pan-fried, not steamed… they were not what I was expecting, but why not try them for a change?

So how are these different from the typical shao long bao that you have? Again, the basic answer is that they’re pan-fried instead of steamed. Oh, and they’re harder to ruin as you’re picking one up!

But like with the shao long bao, you place a spoon under the dumpling and take a delicate bite, being careful not to burn yourself with the steam or juice coming from inside the dumpling, then pour the broth from inside the dumpling out into the spoon and slurp it up.

Then, you put some vinegar in your spoon and dip the dumping in it to eat the rest… the pork filling was similar to what I’ve had in other dumplings, but the dumping itself was different (again, because it was pan-fried dough instead of steamed, thinner dough). I have to say, I prefer the dumplings I’m used to, but I liked the pan-fried dough, which was not cooked uniformly; some parts were browned and crispy from the pan frying, and some parts were almost slightly doughy and less cooked…

Still good, but to be honest, I was kind of wishing that Andre didn’t like his dumplings and that I could eat his instead.

So, next time, I’ll order an order of his dumplings, along with the dan dan noodles that other people had ordered… with thin egg noodles and minced beef on top, they looked really good!

Yooji’s, Zurich

The next day, I get a bit more time for lunch… and found a sushi place on the way to my last meeting. As I sat down inside and looked at the menu, I realised that I had been to Yooji’s before!

Today I decided to get everything from the conveyor belt… my seared tuna tataki…

My delicious tea, a lemongrass tisane… cute tea pots, no?

The spicy prawn spring roll (packed with prawn, grapefruit, and and lettuce… a fresh and light taste!)

And the tuna tartare sushi, which I liked as it was more tuna than rice (for once!) and the sesame seeds gave it a nice crunchy texture…

This branch of Yooji’s, which was in the Old Town of Zurich, had less variety than the one I’d been to in the Gewerbeschule district… but it still hit the spot! This is becoming a favourite for a quick, sit-down lunch in Zurich!