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!

Rochelle Canteen, ICA, St James

A quick lunch with my friend Sara, who was in the hood and could grab lunch… I dragged her to Rochelle Canteen’s ICA branch (have you tried out the original in Shoreditch? Delicious).

Sara went for the fish, the plaice in a bouillabaisse broth, served with rouille and fennel. Yum. She enjoyed this, a good fishy broth with the rich rouille and the bitter fennel to cut the taste some.

We also had some salad, as we’re super healthy girls 🙂

And I went for the rabbit, braised with carrots and prunes. I got a HUGE piece of rabbit (check it out), mostly along the bone, so I had to cut around it, but the carrots were very tender and so was the meat. I don’t love stewed plums, but they gave a nice, sweet taste to the otherwise fatty meat.

I’ve been here a few other times since its opened (Andre and I have started doing movie nights at the ICA, which always has a fantastic selection of foreign and indie films, with the added benefit that we get to eat HERE beforehand!), and I think my favourite dish has been the onglet steak, which is cooked medium rare and is just delicious… but that said, even the fresh bread is good here. Come and try it!

Petersham Nurseries, Covent Garden

A weekday summer lunch with Alicia, a friend that just recently moved back to the UK from New York (hurray!)… we decide to treat ourselves to a terrace, as the weather is great!

Petersham Nurseries, a great restaurant out in Richmond, had recently opened an outpost in central London, smack in Covent Garden… and the best part? They have a huge terrace!

What I love about the food at Petersham is that it’s all very fresh, straight from the farm, and seasonal. Usually, each dish has a few ingredients, but then end up being perfectly placed together, making a great combination.

We started by sharing some burrata served with white peaches and cured ham. Wow. Again, simple flavours, topped with some red pepper chili flakes, olive oil, and ripped basil, these ingredients spoke for themselves (especially the white peach, which was SO juicy and flavourful).

Afterwards, I went for the hake, served on a bed of sliced, muddled courgette with some herbs and fresh spinach. See what I mean? Well-cooked, fresh ingredients, simply put together… and it turns out really good!

Alicia went for the salmon, topped with a fresh tomato and onion “salsa”, along with some basil… all on top of delicious-tasting but kind of anemic-looking beans 🙂 She confirmed that it was very good.

… sorry about this picture, I tried my best but couldn’t fliip it! But this was the best of the dishes… it was courgettes cooked three ways (really, cooked to three different degrees), then slow simmered with more basil. Look at how creamy and broken down the courgette has gotten… it was mushy and soft in the best way, really bringing out the fresh taste of the courgette, with little flecks of basil coming up from time to time.

And there we go! We were good and didn’t have any dessert this time. But I can’t wait to come back and try a number of their other dishes, especially once they switch to another seasonal menu!

Nagasui, Zurich

A day trip to Zurich, and I’m craving soup as it’s cold outside. I finally settle on a pan-Asian place called Nagasui that has a bunch of lunch specials. I get inside and start looking at the lunch menu, and it turns out that while they have five lunch specials every day, that’s all you can order from for lunch… oh well!

I finally settle on a penang curry chicken – while it’s not a soup, it does the job, as its hot and creamy. Given the price (over 20 CHF), I find it kind of pricey… but loaded with vegetables and chicken, it fills me up, and I have to say, the curry itself is a nice combination of creamy, slightly sweet and mostly tangy.

So this place did the job – given the many other options for lunch in Zurich, it’s to be seen if I’ll be back, but at least I know that I can come here for comfort food!

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!