Prado, Lisbon

When we were in Comporta this summer, we met an English couple that was looking to start up a biodynamic wine bar, and were deciding whether to start it in Lisbon or somewhere else in Portugal. He had been working in the restaurant industry in London, so right away, we perked up when they mentioned a restaurant they had loved in Lisbon, insisting we try it when we go through there.

So off to Prado we went! Right away, we got it, as we saw their list of (delicious) biodynamic wines, with a waitress that was very enthusiastic about describing them, and kindly remembered the wines we had drank when I emailed her about them the next day.

When we arrived to the restaurant, we were shunned by the hostess… she was very busy and annoyed that we had showed up early, and did her best to show us that we’d put her out. When we finally sat down, she came to tell our waitress that she couldn’t take our order yet…okay…

So we were given some bread with dips… the one on the left was fresh goat’s butter with smoked salt and sea lettuce. I’ve recently had several different seaweed butters and loved them (it seems to be the new thing), and this one was no exception! Next to it was some whipped Iberico pork fat, wiht some garlic and bay leaves mixed in… also quite good.

Then, finally, we were allowed to order… and were suggested to get 6 dishes total to share.

We staerted with the ox heart tomatoes, which we saw on the next table, that were served with watermelon and river mint. These were quite good and meaty… and the tomato juices mixed nicely with the fresh slices of watermelon, giving a tangy but sweet note to the dish.

Then, the steak tartare, which we had been told was good but not great, that there were other dishes that were better… but I was glad we ordered it! Served with shitake mushroom and some grilled cabbage, this dish had tons of taste and texture… imagine the soft, chopped beef with the crispy cabbage (ok, I thought it was kale when it arrived), nicely topped with some flakes of sea salt… and then, think of the soft, but vivid taste of raw beef, mixed with the umami of mushroom together… it was such a nice combination!

Another winner… and this one doesn’t look like much, this hispi cabbage was a knockout, served with whey (the creamy sauce), pumpkin seeds, and an gelled, herby topping… the mix of the soggy cabbage (doesn’t sound good but boy, was it), the crunchy seeds, and the milky whey… along with these green bits of herby oil… it was inventive and comforting!

Then, we went for one of the specials, the red mullet, served with a rich and smoky tomato sauce on the side. This was a nice dish, but there wasn’t tons to say about it… it was as advertised!

And then, another of my favourites… the Alentejo pork pluma, topped iwht lettuce and coriander. Over the course of our summer trip to Portugal, we had many a piece of Iberian pork pluma, that magical cut that is served medium rare with a bit of sea salt on top, and that is perfection. This piece of presa was no different, perfectly cooked, rare and juicy and tasteful. The toppings were nice, but unnecessary.

And finally, dessert. A toasted rice flan with pumpkin and hazelnut… this was essentilaly a creamy pumpkin puree topped with toasted rice kernels and crispy hazelnut… it was a good mix of sweet blended puree and crunch… nothing incredible, but it was also nice to have something on the lighter side after all of our food!

Dining underneath the tall ceiling with a canopy of lights… in a modern, green environment…

Overall, we had a very good meal here. The food was inventive, and some of the dishes were out of this world, but others were just okay, and felt like they were trying too hard. Over the course of the night, we probably tried 5 different bio wines, and liked each of them (and were surpised by their varierty!) It was a fun experience in dining, but given the number of new, exciting restaurants in Lisbon these days, this won’t be the first that I rush back to.

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Plum Valley, Chinatown

Another weekday, another restaurant in Chinatown…

I wonder where, exactly, my love of Chinese food comes from. When I was younger, we lived in Singapore for two years, but apart from some fried rice, I can’t remember eating anything especially exciting. Then, when we moved to Tokyo, my mother and  I would have Saturday lunches together at a Chinese restaurant near my ballet studio, and there, I would have… you guessed it, fried rice. So I’m not sure where this love of all else Chinese came from.

The Chinese noodle soup must have come from our numerous ramen meals in Tokyo, again on Saturday afternoons, when my brother and I would walk to the local town center and spend our weekly allowances on toys and beauty products. Later, at home, our mother made her own version of this noodle soup, adding egg noodles to a can of Campbell’s chicken broth… and we always thought it tasted almost as good!

Then, there were the large bowls of noodles… in Tokyo, our maid was Filipina, and every now and then, treated us to some local food like adobo chicken or noodles. My favourite was her bihon noodles, vermicelli noodles sauteed in garlic and soy sauce, and mixed with lots of crispy vegetables and bits of pork. It’s still one of the dishes I think of when I think of comfort food, and the one I constantly try to make and perfect, but it never tastes the same as when she made them!

So maybe it’s just in my blood?

So what did we try here? These were the meat croquettes… fried on the outside and with a mushy, meat taste (but was there really any actual meat inside?) on the inside, these were very comforting and tasty.

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Oh, yeah

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Then, the prawns wrapped in bean curd, bits of prawn on the inside, in a moist, dribbled in juice package of tofu skin. These don’t look great, but I finally tried them when a friend was in town and ordered them, and I have to say that I’m hooked! The plump prawn on the inside of the slippery and soaked beancurd really does it for me!

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Then, the cheung fun, beef variety. Cheung fun is another type of dimsum that I love, probably because you get larger rolls of dough with the filling inside, topped in soy sauce.

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And finally, the pork and crab soup dumplings. These were the most disappointing thing there; with a thicker skin than most xiao long bao and not being able to taste anything like crab, these were mediocre…

IMG_4440But what about Plum Valley over all? It’s slightly nicer than some of the other Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and most of their dimsum is spot on. I’d definitely come back, but maybe give the xiao long bao a miss the next time around.

Italian fish and seafood class, Divertimenti, Kensington

As a birthday present, a friend gave me a gift certificate for a cooking class at Divertimenti. SCORE. Thank you, Sara!

They have a diverse range of classes, so after having perused all of them (and the dates that worked), I decided to refine my Italian cooking skills and eat some seafood while I was at it!

There were six people in the class, so we divided into groups of two and each tackled a few recipes… My partner and I started on the warm prawn salad, which was simple but delicious… fresh, lukewarm prawns tossed with olives, tomato, cucumber and loads of parsley.. this would make a very nice starter course with prawns that to me tasted like my favourite prawn carpaccio at La Petite Maison.

The duo next to us worked on another starter, rice-stuffed mussels in a tomato sauce, baked and scattered with garlicky, parsley bread crumbs.

And the last group worked on stuffed baby squid, again, stuffed with rice, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs.

Then, the roast sea bream. This was simply roasted on a bed of olives, pine nuts and potatoes, and splashed with some white wine before it went into the over and then again, halfway through the roasting process.

This was the finished plate… this sea bream was SO tender and moist, I would have gobbled it up, if it hadn’t been for all the other food that we had made…

Then, we watched the teacher make a sea bass in salt crust. Quite easy, actually, as you just whip the egg whites until they’re peaky, incorporate TONS of salt, and then pack it firmly (leaving no holes) around the fish in the baking sheet…. roast, then take off the salt crust when you’re done and serve the fish.

This dish is more impressive for guests to watch than actually complicated… but is good for dinner parties as it looks cool and yields some very moist (think about it, you’re basically steaming the sea bass in a salt igloo), very tender and perfectly seasoned fish!

Finally, the whole mackerel… stuffed with garlic and rosemary (also with a little douse of white wine!), off it went into the oven… and made for a lovely, tender flesh when it came out.

After all of our work, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour… tons of delicious seafood and fish! All of these recipes are easy enough to make on a regular night, but look fancy… you can be sure you’ll be seeing them soon at my place!

Dumplings Legend, Chinatown, Soho

Another day, another Chinatown dimsum lunch… this time to Dumplings Legend, which is best known for its xiao long bao, but I’ve had them here before and aren’t too impressed… so we go for some new dishes instead.

First, the spicy duck dumplings, which are nicely cooked (and still moist) inside, with a little kick but nothing too strong. And, aren’t they pretty?

Then, the cheung fun with a different taste… ginger, spring onoins, and pork liver. This wasn’t as good as I was hoping, as I found that the taste of the ginger and spring onion overpowered the taste of the liver.

Then, the crab meat and vegetable dumpling, which was also not super tasty.. they weren’t BAD per se, just didn’t have much taste and I found the dumpling layer too thick.

And finally, the chicken, mushroom and pork rice bowl. I love this dish, it’s quite simple, but the meat and mushroom are always tenderly simmered until they come out very soft and flavourful, and all the juices from them drop into the rice, usually leaving a layer of juice at the bottom of the otherwise pretty dry rice.

So there we go. Stay away from the xiao long bao and go for some of the other bits and pieces, and you’ll be quite happy at Dumpling’s Legend!

Aquavit, St James

A very enjoyable (and substantial) breakfast with one of my favourite other hedge fund marketers today at Aquavit…

David went for the avocado and poached egg on toast… which was obviously much more than just that, a generous slice of toasted bread and avocado topped with a tomato and onion salsa, pickled onion, and a plump poached egg. David loved it… I went for the Nordic breakfast, whihc consisted of Rye bread crisps, fish roe spread (I had expected fish eggs but the spread came out… which is much more decadent and easier to spread on the crisps!), slices of avocado and sliced, boiled egg.

This was also a substantial dish, but one I thoroughly enjoyed both assembling and eating… the salty, creamy roe went well with the anis-tasting crisps, more creamy avocado, and the boiled egg (the yolk gave a nice additional taste, while the egg white was really just filler)

We shared some berries on the side… and tasted one of their cinnamon rolls, which was topped with sugar but otherwise not too gooey or sweet. Breakfast was very good, and a bit different from the usual menus that you see around Mayfair. I’ve also tried Aquavit’s prix fixe lunch, which is quite a deal, and also very good (tons of fresh, Nordic ingredients in a very affordable £24 for three courses!) Aquavit has always been a treat back in New York, where it holds a Michelin star, and I’ll definitely come back to the London branch to try out more of their dishes.

Caravan, Kings Cross

This is not my first time to Carravan in Kings Cross, but it had been ages (the last time was right after it opened!) This time, we were here to check out the opening of the Coal Drops Yard complex in Kings Cross, with its new restaurants and shops. As it was POURING rain and freezing, we weren’t up for walking around too long, and quickly came in for food.

There is a Barrafina in Coal Drops Yard, but somehow, the thought of cured ham and croquettas at noon was too much! So we headed to Caravan and stood in line (luckily, only for 5 mins, as the queue is in blustery outdoors)…

And I ordered the warm spiced milk to start, which was so comforting… a mix of turmeric, cinnamon, anise seed, and other spices, it was warming and gentle… so I ordered two 🙂

And then, for food… I ordered the charred aubergine puree, served with a soft-boiled egg (which in turn was topped with a tomatoey and pickle salsa that gave a nice kick!), and a yogurt topped with chermoula. The toasted bread on the side had a nice dose of za’atar on it, which gave more flavour… and I took the option of adding a merguez as well! The merguez was very flavourful, it’s the first time in a while that I’ve tasted one with so much… of a merguez taste. But as Andre mentioned, it was not overcooked (which merguez tends to be, crispy which is one of the nice things about it!) But I was happy with the taste.

The aubergine puree, however, was pretty boring, even with the harissa and rest topping it… I think they could have done a better job at adding something to it!

But I do love Caravan over all, for their varied dishes, nicely-spiced foods, and fun combinations. Whether its in Fitzrovia, King’s Cross, or Southwark (though there are other ones elsewhere), it’s always at the top of my list!

L’Huitrier, Bruxelles

The next evening, I arrived by train to Bruxelles, and was excited to try a Japanese sushi restaurant that I had read about. But when I got there, it was packed, and the guy said that they wouldn’t be able to seat me that night (it was a Monday!)

So I walked down the street, looking at the other choice of restaurants, and decided that a seafood restaurant wouldn’t be too different from sushi… Also, with the weather going on in early October, I’d be able to sit outside… score!

I saw down and looked through the long list of food, overwhelmed. Finally, after lookign at the 7 types of mussels, 10 types of lobster, etc etc… I went for the set menu, which had a number of good options… three courses for £29.

I started with the mussels, which were… interesting. Gratined mussels with a tomato and pistou sauce, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into here when I ordered, but they were pretty good. I did end up scraping most of the cheese off of the mussels (seafood and melted cheese? eh.) but the pistou was delicious enough that I finished it up by sopping my bread into it.

Then, the main dish, the seafood platter… exactly what I had been craving! With large and small prawnd, clams, oysters, whelks and cockles… I was in heaven. This took me a good half hour to plow my way through, but I ate every bite.

Fresh, for a great price, this was exactly what I had been craving when I went for the sushi originally… so glad that I found it! Even with all of the other good restaurants in the city, I’ll be back here next time I come to Bruxelles for sure!