Med-EAT-erranean Delight

Ok, so I was in the sunny Mediterranean city of Barcelona over the past week. Since this is a food blog, I shan’t to bore you with details of how the providential confluence of 7 completely accidental events culminated in me fortuitously getting tickets to the epic, once-in-a-lifetime football match between FC Barcelona and AC Milan. Before going on, however, it’d be prudent to make a disclaimer: this post would probably end up like my hair – not a mess (as Rach would say) but lengthy.

100 Montaditos

I was recommended this place by the backpacker’s hostel where I was putting up. Apparently it is a restaurant chain well-known for its affordability. Let’s see, I thought to myself. Hang on. Actually I couldn’t see it. Initially, at least. Its location at the corner of some poorly-lit intersection, especially with no proper signboard, was inconspicuous to say the least. Thankfully my eyesight was as sharp as my wit, otherwise we wouldn’t be having a post on montaditos – traditional Spanish toppings on a piece of bread/baguette.ImageThe list of different dishes on menu was both expansive and inexpensive. Most of the montaditos were priced at €1 per piece. I ordered 3 sandwiches: (1) Serranito shoulder of Iberian cured ham, loin of pork with garlic and green pepper; (2) Potato omelettes and Iberian spicy sausage on ciabatta and (3) Duck mousse. The first thing I realised was that the sandwiches were rather petite; I reckon the time taken to pronounce some of the sandwich names is longer than the time you’d take to eat it.Image My favourite was the cured ham with loin of pork sandwich. The ham was salty enough whilst the pork loin was tender and added to the mix a different kind of savoury taste that stood out despite the relative saltiness of the ham. The bread was really well baked, crunchy outside but not too hard and very fragrant. Image The other 2 sandwiches were decent but nothing special. The potato omelette was a novelty to me and I liked how it tasted – basically it was an omelette with the powdery texture of potatoes. Somehow, though, the fact that there was spicy sausage was lost on me – the sausage was neither shaped like one nor was it spicy. Image The texture of the duck mousse sandwich was very smooth, almost akin to eating foie gras. However, with the kind of aftertaste that plagues most mediocre duck dishes, it proved a bit of a dampener to my initial excitement. ImageThe food was decent, with some sandwiches clearly superior to others. For its value, however, at €1 a dish, I consider it a steal. Add in the fact that a huge serving of crisps and mug of beer are also priced at €1 each, it’s a nice place to hang out till late or for supper. Also, I’d recommend it to peeps keen on tasting of a variety of toppings. Additionally, I would point out that the restaurant was impressively packed, even at 1045pm, as I entered; interestingly, majority of the patrons appeared to be locals.Image Compare it to an eatery across the street and the crowd appears even more remarkable.Image Yet considering how affordably priced the menu is, I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that the restaurant was packed with locals spoke more about the authenticity of the food or the state of the Spanish economy.

100 Montaditos
Plaça Urquinaona,1
8010 Barcelona, Spain

La Boqueria

The next morning i went to the famous Boqueria Market. Joining me was a new friend I made on the trip – Englishman, Paul. The market was really crowded and it had an aura of freshness that we somehow don’t get anywhere here in London. The market had everything you’d fathom in a market. It had a fresh food section which was further divided into wet and dry areas, as well as a cooked food area. The selection of food there was amazing. The seafood smelt especially fresh, having probably been that very day’s catch. It sorta reminded me of home when I used to accompany my mum to the wet market every Saturday morning, maybe back when I was in kindergarten.Image Other things that caught my eye were the huge full legs of ham, or what the Spanish call Jamón. They were huge and came in different colours.Image After that we made our way to the cooked food section where there was tapas, pizza, sandwiches and what not. The agony of choice is not one that I deal with easily so out of everything on show, I settled for a simple piece of burchetta. The burchetta here was really delicious. There are many restaurants in the UK that serve burchettas as a starter for meals and, of all that I have tried so far, I would go as far to say that the one at Boqueria was not just a class above but several semesters. The tomatoes were juicy and grilled to perfection, while the topping of cheese was liberal in quantity and melted in my mouth. In fact the pieces of cheese were so thick that I initially thought they were pieces of calamari. Perhaps after just one night in Barcelona my eyesight had degenerated. The bread, complemented by an optimal dosage of fragrant olive oil, was wonderful as well – characteristic of the bread I’d been having in Barcelona thus far.Image One last thing about the market: despite the colossal amount of fresh produce on display in the open, flies were few and far between – impressive. I would recommend La Boqueria to anyone visiting Barcelona. That locals also go there for their grocery shopping and meals probably bear greatest testament to the quality of the food available.IMG_0656ImageMercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria
Rambla, 91,
08002 Barcelona, Spain

Senyor Parellada

Next up Paul and I decided to go in search for authentic paella – since that was the dish that people had recommended coming to Barcelona for most frequently. A few enquiries around and we were led to Senyor Parellada, a restaurant on the ground floor of what looked like a boutique hotel. One glance into the restaurant and we were apprehensive about stepping in. It looked so chic and had an aura of EXPENSIVE about it. However, we decided that if we were to try the highly recommended paella, we should have it at a highly recommended restaurant.Image Our gut feeling was right. The paella costs €14.95, before tax and service – not cheap at all. Hence we decided that – just to taste it – we’d order one serving to share. The waitress taking our order appeared unable to comprehend our order of just ONE paella for both of us. We felt like black sheep in the restaurant, especially as hordes of well-dressed professionals and business-people sauntered in, ordering multiple main courses and more. We were clearly the third estate in a customer base of aristocrats inside the restaurant. Service included a pack of black olives and bread. But the main attraction had to be the paella. The rice had a brownish tone, unlike the yellow kinds you find at your regular farmer’s market in England. Also it was much wetter than the regular ones you’d find around and did not look exactly elegantly prepared. Its taste, however, was divine.IMG_0724 The seafood was as fresh as you’d expect and the selection of meat vast, including loin meat and sausages. The meat was cooked to perfection and every bite was juicy. The French beans in the mix contributed to the dynamic combination of ingredients as well. Also, the rice grains were so fat and flavourful – absolutely Chuck Norris-ing the rice we had at Jin Kichi last week.IMG_0722 The base stock was also very fragrant, to the extent that we resorted to dipping our bread into the residual sauce/stock; that was nice, at least until the waitress came and cleared our paella pan. With the amount of paella sauce left, it felt like at least €2 cleared off our table. In general, the ambience was pleasant, and despite having our only dish over-zealously cleared, we did not feel rushed or under pressure to order more. Looking again at the menu, I came to realise why the paella served here was different to our prior conceptions of it – this restaurant professes to serve traditional Catalan food and what we were served was paella in Catalan-style. No wonder it looked and tasted different from the kinds we see everywhere else. If you want to experience a uniquely Catalan palette I would recommend this place to you. However I also imagine that there are other restaurants out there that also serve great-tasting – though not necessarily Catalonian – paellas with equally generous servings of meat and seafood, all for less than the price we paid at Seynor Parellada.IMG_0727Image Seynor Parellada
Carrer de L’ Argenteria, 37,
08003 Barcelona, Spain

La Rita

The last culinary stop of this post is called La Rita. My friend from Singapore, Jon, who’s living it up in Barcelona for the month, recommended this place for its €9.95, 3 course set lunch. On top of 3 courses, the set also came with 0.25l of red/white wine or a bottle of still water. It appeared like great value, and I was hoping the food was as appetising as the deal sounded. Hence Jon, Alejandro – an Argentinian and another new pal made on this trip – and I trudged down to this restaurant, just off Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s Champs-Élysées. We were fortunate we had Ale there with us as the menu was worded in only Catalan and Spanish. For starters we all ordered the lasagne.image (4) It was delightful. The layer of pasta was thin and light whilst the amount of cheese was judicious. What made the lasagne so special was that it didn’t just contain mince beef but boiled spinach as well. The meat was minced so finely that it was as thought the chef had done the chewing for you. I guess if you prefer chewing the meat yourself and experiencing the tactile joy of the meat being gnashed between your teeth then you will not appreciate the finesse of the mince. However, the meat was seasoned really well and went excellently with the spinach. Lastly, there was also – to my surprise – lots of cream on the lasagne. It was light and helped the different flavours of the ingredients complement each other very nicely. Indeed, more light cream and less cheese than usual made this lasagne extremely palatable and not overly salty.image (5) For our mains, Ale and I ordered the pork chop whilst Jon ordered the fish with tomato and potato. I tried a bit of Jon’s fish and found it really fresh and liked the way the fish was grilled very lightly. The flesh was firm yet juicy at the same time: a result that – I am told – is particularly difficult to achieve with fish.image (6) The pork chop was really well seasoned. The first bites of the edges were tender and succulent; I thought to myself – this could very well be eaten plain, without any seasoning. However, as I got to the middle portion of the pork it became less moist and that made me add some salt to the meat in an attempt to ‘expand’ and ‘bring out’ its flavour. The veggies served with the meat were well cooked – the brinjal particularly. It had a nice soft bite to it and the subtly grilled outer layer augmented the natural taste of the brinjal; at no point could I taste the powdery aftertaste you get with poorly cooked brinjal.image (7) For desert we all had the walnut cake with chocolate sauce. The walnut cake was above average. What I liked about it was the decently sized nuts in it which you could actually crunch on – typically giving the feeling that you’re getting your money’s worth. The highlight of the dessert, however, was the chocolate sauce. It was delightfully rich in taste yet extremely bouyant in texture. It was like the walnut cake equivalent of a sunny day with clear blue skies complimented by nice cool, light gusts of wind.image (10) I guess this sweet-tooth nirvana – with regards to the chocolate sauce – explains why I polished off every drop I could.image (11) The restaurant has a nice ambience to it and service was attentive, especially considering that most tables were occupied during lunch hour. This particular day’s menu was fulfilling. However, it could have been a case of us having been lucky on the day as the menu changes every day of the week. Despite a few issues with the pork chop, and considering that it was only €9.95 nett for the selection available, I doubt one can realistically complain; to do so would be NICpicking. Indeed I would say that this meal was possibly the best during my time in the Catalan capital.image (13)image (3)image (12)La Rita

Carrer d’Aragó, 279
08009 Barcelona, Spain

The food on this trip was delightful. Perhaps my only regret was that I didn’t manage to try as many seafood-specific dishes as I would have liked. On the flight back I was thinking of a word to sum up my trip. I thought to myself: if aw-FUL is bad and aw-SOME is good, to continue the pattern, this trip to Barcelona definitely had to be aw-EMPTY.

Nonetheless, now that I’m back in London, and hopelessly resigned to hall food on a daily basis, there certainly is an emptiness inside me – and it resides not just in my stomach. Barcelona is a delightful city with delicious food and I will definitely return one day to quell this emptiness. In the meantime, however, I guess I’ll go back to the incessant verbal diarrhoea people know me for; after all, empty vessels make the most noise.

-Nic

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Louis Patisserie, Hampstead

we heard that no trip to hampstead was complete without a visit to louis patisserie, a hungarian patisserie that has been around for close to 50 years.

we took a walk around hampstead to let our food from Jin Kichi settle:

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the air seemed fresher and people more carefree – the tranquility and feeling of being miles away from the hustle & bustle of central london was therapeutic, to say the least. however, what was more therapeutic was the sweet treat that greeted us at this cosy tea room.

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possibly the part that got us most excited about louis patisserie was the full range of cakes available being brought to us on a silver platter – literally. we were spoilt for choice and after 15 minutes of intense interrogation, we settled on 3 cakes of which unfortunately, we do not know the names of because there is NO MENU at this shop.

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we were highly recommended the chestnut cake by the waitress. we were served a sizable rectangular slice on a dainty plate and it was easily the best out of the 3 cakes we ordered. do not fear the seemingly (jo: SERIOUSLY, ITS OBSCENE.) overly thick layer of cream; it was  so light and fresh that nic felt like he could fly after just one bite! the chestnut cream on top merged with the sponge and cream seamlessly, and it was an explosion of light-tasting goodness with every mouthful. if its one cake we will be back at louis patisserie for, this would be it.

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next, we had a strawberry tart with a chocolate base. it was noticeably smaller than the other cakes, but priced similarly. we expected a firm and thicker crusty base, but lo and behold, it was filled with cream, cream and more cream, with a crumbly, biscuit-y layer. the thin chocolate crust was not such a bad thing after all – it did not overpower the sweetness of the strawberries, and allowed the distinct fruitiness to come through. however we would have preferred more texture as the thick cream filling made the tart too one-dimensional. the tart as a whole lacked depth of flavour and variety of tastes and textures. overall, it was very pretty to look at, but not as good as it looked/we had anticipated.

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our third cake was chocolate buttercream on sponge. again, the cream was the star of the show. the sponge was nice and tasty (reminded us of kueh bolu) but was dry at some points when eaten without the cream. the amount of chocolate coating the sponge was just nice: enough to be eaten with every mouthful, not stealing the cream’s limelight.

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coffee was nothing to shout about.

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overall, the cakes were nice and creamy. usually too much cream on cakes tends to put people off but here, due to the lightness of the cream, more was definitely not an issue. in fact, we’d say that the cream here is the cream de la cream.

our guess for the price: £25

total bill: £17.40 (£3.70 per cake for eat-in, £3 for takeaway)

ambience: artisan, boutique cafe, vintage, chic.

service: unimpressive. seemed to be rushing us and unwilling to entertain our queries (otherwise our interrogation might have gone on for another hour), not very customer-oriented. probably because it was a busy saturday afternoon.

who we would recommend this to: people looking for a unique, old-school tea experience at a comparatively reasonable price. friends looking for a catch up over cake & tea. small groups as the place is pretty cramp and tables are very close to each other.

will we return? 3 YES-ES!!! even though the cakes were nothing mind blowing, we will definitely return considering the ambience and the other cakes that we did not get to try today – on a weekday when it is probably less busy.

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Louis Patisserie

32 Heath St, London, Greater London NW3 6TE

020 7435 9908

Jin Kichi, Hampstead

today we made our maiden foodie club trek to Hampstead, solely based on a recommendation by nic’s (dubious) japanese hairdresser (i mean, just look at the state of his hair…). this restaurant is just a minute away from the hampstead tube station, and is known for its yakitori.

first impressions:

1. japanese newsletters/magazines for customers to take home with them –> LEGIT…

2. sushi bar was manned by japanese chef grilling yakitoris on the spot –> OOOH….

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3. spoonless tables –> truly japanese

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4. just ONE blond-haired waiter –> #asianpride

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5. japanese fishmonger delivering fresh produce for the day

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the menu was extensive but nic had preconceived notions of what foods represent the hallmark of true japanese cuisine: miso ramen, tempura, sashimi.

sadly there wasn’t ramen on the menu (but udon and soba were available) so we ended up ordering tempura, sashimi, unagi sushi and a yakitori set.

the yakitori set was first to arrive. while nic was dying to dig in, rach and jo were excited over the prospect of breaking down food for the FIRST time instead of the usual “soooooooo good”. the set included fresh green asparagus with pork, pork with shiso leaf, chicken with onion, minced chicken meatballs, shiitake mushrooms and king prawn.

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Asparagus with pork

rach: asparagus was very fresh and there was a good balance between the amount of pork and greens. you can consider ordering just the asparagus- (THEY WERE SO HUGE AND JUICY LOOKING, NIC WAS ALMOST FOAMING WHEN THE WAITRESS CARRYING IT WALKED PAST – at the food, not the waitress)

nic: pork wasn’t crispy enough, but the asparagus was sweet and cooked to perfection

jo: would have liked the pork to be more flavourful, but the blend between the two flavours was divine

Pork with shiso leaf

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rach: a bit dry, but the shiso leaf was grilled nicely

jo&nic: there are layers of meat and fat in the pork, so you should eat each piece ALTOGETHER so the juicy fatty goodness can seep into the meat.

Chicken with onion 

this is rach’s FAVOURITE skewer of the day.

rach: the chicken was SOOO juicy and the onions were really crunchy and packed with flavour. it was SOOO GOOD.

Shiitake Mushrooms

nic&jo: so juicy, pity we didn’t have it when it was hot

King prawns 

nic: could have even the whole thing, shell and all, if not for the over zealous waitress. (100 marks for efficiency in clearing the table.)

rach: very naturally sweet prawns

Chicken meatballs 

nic&jo: the fineness of the mince is the selling point

rach, dissenting: chicken was too finely minced, could do with more bite

(OOOH- first instance of clashing tastes and preferences????)

the sashimi lunch set came with 3 slices of salmon, 2 slices of tuna, 2 slices of seabass and 2 slices of turbot. the star of the platter was the salmon, which converted nic from a maguro lover to a fan of salmon. the initial bite was crisp and clean, yet it melted in our mouths upon chewing. it was so smooth without the stringiness of lower grade sashimi. nic also announced to the whole restaurant (his voice tends to be loud and booming) about just how good the maguro was. it was a public display of affection ^^ Image

the ingredients for the tempura were amazing. the tempura here was all about the sauce (and source, since it was sooo fresh). the sauce had an unidentifiable mystery ingredient that gave it some sort of kick/oomph. nic describes it as ‘an alcoholic surge’. the initial kick of the sauce soon blends into the flavour of the meat/veggie and merges into an organic whole. heaven is a place on earth. like the yakitori king prawn, the meat was firm, juicy and sweet and the batter light, fresh; it was a distinct……(for the lack of a better word) DISTINCTION. the ingredients were also coated with just the right amount of this amazing batter; never tasted anything batter.

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the miso soup was pleasant though it seemed that the savoury flavour came from a stock as opposed to the miso itself. not sure if thats a positive or negative thing but it was nice.

there were let downs – the rice and hence the unagi sushi. the rice was too moist and clumpy. possibly reheated from previous days? for the sushi we wanted more unagi and less rice. we would have preferred a crispier seaweed wrap.

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Wrapping up, before asking for the bill, we three have a tradition of playing ‘the price is right’ this allows us to share with you what we felt the meal was worth and enables you to compare it to what we actually paid.

Our guess was: £55

Total bill: £54 nett

Ambience: casual, for the family

Service: efficient, though sometimes overly so; felt rushed as we didn’t make reservation;

Who we would recommend it to: small groups of discerning consumers of japanese cuisine; not people looking for a leisurely lunch

Will we return?: Rach: Possibly; Jo: there are comparable alternatives in central london but will go back for the hampstead experience; nic: probably.

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Jin Kichi 

73 Heath St  London, Greater London NW3 6UG
020 7794 6158