Byzantium Beach, Tinos, Greece

Second day of the mini-moon, we stayed near our hotel in Agios Sostis and decided to take it easy… for lunch, we walked all the way to the other side of the bay (maybe a 20 minute walk) to Byzantium Beach Club. They had a number of beach beds, a few tables, and a large menu… so we decided to give it a try!

We started looking at the menu, and they didn’t have half of the line items… but we managed to find a pretty good selection to order anyway.

We started with… yes, another Greek salad. Fresh tomatoes, sharp red onion, briny olives, cooling olives… a winning dish.Then, the aubergine, covered in tomato sauce and Parmesan… basically, an eggplant Parmesan – with basic tomato sauce and tons of grated cheese, it was fine, but nothing special.

Then, the grilled sardines… a generous serving, they were plentiful and nicely char-grilled. Again, these were fine but nothing to write home about, the grilling gave them a nice, crackly flavour outside, but they weren’t seasoned with anything more than parsley, and it wasn’t enough. 

Afterwards, I grabbed an espresso to wash it all down, and they brought us a homemade dessert that the waiter said was his grandmother’s recipe. It was basically orange rind in honey, but it was candied and tender while still being slightly tangy… with a nice bit of honey on top- spot on, and delicious. I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how I could make this at home!

So would we come back? Yes, but hoping that more of the choices on the menu were available during high season, as it was really slim pickings. And everything we ate was fine, but nothing was out of this world… except for the free dessert!

That said, we may come back just for the beach chairs and atmosphere on the quiet bay…

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Tarsanas, Tinos, Greece

That night, we tried out a restaurant in town that had many good reviews, and we weren’t disappointed. Tarsanas is located slightly off from the main port of Tinos but still on the water. As it was very windy, they hadn’t kept any tables outside, so we were all indoors, and the atmosphere was lovely. A mix of locals, young and old, along with tourists, some chilled music and great decorations (check out this painter!) made for a great environment.

Andre tried the local beer, which he really liked… And once again, we ordered a feast. We started off with some grilled, local cheese (not haloumi) that was served with a delicious tomato jam (the jam was more revolutionary to us than the cheese, but both were good).

Then, a good classic, a Greek salad, which as you can see was served to us in a HUGE bowl… again, after these two dishes, we would have probably had enough to eat. But no, we ordered on…

The grilled, local sausage. This was also a generous portion, as we were expecting maybe a 1/6 of this. It was nicely grilled, had the same texture as a saucisse de Toulouse but a taste closer to a Corsican figatel. A mix of Andre and I, go figure 🙂 We managed to eat this whole plate.

And then, some fresh fish (again, we thought that we were under-ordering by just getting starters…) The fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked… but the real winner?

The accompanying rice, mixed with dill, charred spring onions, and probably a lot of butter. It was delicious and addictive. Even after everything else that we ate for dinner, we managed to wolf down this rice… and I can’t wait to make it again at home! What a great meal…

Ceru, South Kensington

A rainy Saturday in London, and we popped into a new restaurant that we’d noticed on Bute Street in South Kensington. The last time we’d walked by, the restaurant was jam-packed with people… so we made a note to come back another weekend. Easter weekend, we headed on over to give it a try.

The menu is a mix of what they call Levantine food, basically a pan-middle eastern (from Turkey down to Israel, Syria and Palestine, as well as Cyprus… ) variety, divided on the menu into dips, salads, then by protein or vegetable.

We started with the spiced cauliflower salad, served with pommegranate seeds, spring onion, and walnuts. The combination of the ingredients was nice, but I found that the large pieces of cauliflower didn’t have much taste (or this spice that was mentioned…), so unless you piled on the spring onion, parsley, walnut and spring onion, you just had some cauliflower with not much taste. But pile on the rest, and it was a nice combo.

After this came the fritters, zucchini and feta fritters served on top of a mint and dill yogurt. This was a lovely little dish… the feta in the fritters was strong enough to given the fritters real taste (sometimes with a fritter, you get the texture of some kind of patty, but aren’t really sure what’s inside)… here, you tasted salty, creamy feta with the stringier texture of the courgette. With the lightly flavoured yogurt sauce underneath, it was delightful.

Then, the shakshuka, which was the reason we were there in the first place 🙂 What I liked about it is that its less tomato-ey (maybe fruity?) than most shakshukas, and much more smoky… which I appreciated. To the point that we sopped up all of the leftover bits of the sauce, once the eggs were done. (And, by the way, with some lovely, fluffy pita bread that they served on the side).

After that came the aubergine, roasted with chermoula and served with an herb yogurt and lohz. This dish was unexpected… in the way that the cauliflower had less taste than expected, the aubergine had more. Tenderly roasted, it made a great base for the yogurt and nuts. (By the way, the lohz, as I had to look it up, is roasted nuts mixed with sugar and spices, then sprinkled with some lemon juice and salt. Think of it like having some spiced, candied pecans on top of your food.) Anyway, the lohz was a real winner with the aubergine and yogurt.

Then came the kofta… it was really nice, spiced beef with edamame beans and caramelised onions mixed in… very fragrant and the edamame was a nice addition! All on top of a tartar sauce that was more yogurt and less relish… I really enjoyed this dish!

So my thoughts overall? It really depended on the dish, some were real winners while others were a bit more boring… I wouldn’t rush back here, but it will definitely make it into the local brunches list for when we need something a bit different!

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!

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.

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!

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!