Franco Manca, London 04-2017

I'll never forget my first Franco Manca pizza. I had just eaten Honest Burger at Brixton and after being only semi-whelmed, decided to get a Franco Manca pizza to takeaway home. I didn't expect to enjoy the soft doughy crust, the light ting of sourness in the crust and the overall pleasure of eating the pizza both fresh and at home later in the evening.

After that episode, I'd eaten there once ( as it wasn't the most convenient to get to, bought the recipe book and made his version of pizza (with yeast though because sourdough starter is impossible to buy in Australia and longwinded to make) to great success in Canberra.

It was by chance I was able to eat at one of the many many vast expansions of this place that have happened since 2013. This time was in Chiswick. It was nice to see the prices hadn't gone up too much in that time.

I ate 1.5 pizzas comprised of a special sausage/potato/chilli/mozzarella and the old favourite tomato/garlic/oregano/capers/olives/anchovies/mozzarella. The former was overall lighter in flavour with an occasional big hit of hot chilli, whereas the latter remained my favourite with the lovely salty flavours I adore in pizza. The crust was still relatively soft and spongey but didn't have any of the slight tang I recall.

Nonetheless I'll happily try again at the Brixton mothership or elsewhere. And it'll be with anchovies.

Franco Manca Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Balthazar, London 04-2017

After a few drinks, there was a nice dinner booked at this fancy French place. I don't tend to go out for French food generally and it isn't one of my destination countries to eat. However it was booked by a friend to celebrate the return of a Frenchman to London, so why not?

It's a pretty expensive place and menu (not surprisingly) and honestly most of the dishes didn't inspire me too much.

Eventually I went with the Friday night special of Bouillabaisse £22. It reminded me of my trip to Marseille many years ago in 2009 and ate in all the top reputed places within a couple of days.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but ended up with a really delicious seafood broth with fish and shells cooked to a dark flavoursome and saffron colour. The croutons and rouille weren't all that good (they didn't excite me in Marseille either) but the bread served to the table did a much better job of absorbing the soup. Maybe I've been a little harsh on French cooking but it did remind me how my favourite meals in France have been the deep hearty soups and stews like this and cassoulet.

The beverage of choice was the Screaming Viking (Ocho Blanco Tequila, Swedish Punsch, Martini Fiero, Agave & Lime) £10, a delicious tequila-based cocktail reminiscent of a great G&T.

I'm unsure if I would actively go back, but I wouldn't be so hesitant next time someone else suggested it. And that's a compliment from me when it comes to French.

Balthazar Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Hoppers, London 04-2017

This represented by 3rd visit to the Sri Lankan curry house. Once again, being by myself meant a spot at the counter immediately rather than having to wait outside with the rest.

I was very very disappointed to see the duck heart chukka had disappeared from the menu - when I asked the waitress, I was told it wasn't popular enough. These mainstream eaters with no creativity disappoint me.

Rather than go for a single main, I decided to try a series of entrees for the variety.

- Idli, Sambhar, Podi £4.5 - I was hoping the rice cakes would be similar to Korean types but they ended up being stringy vermicelli to dip in a mild sauce and chewy spices. It wasn't the most exciting and I wouldn't get it again;
- Mutton Rolls £5 - these crisp little rolls contained some chewy strips of mutton. Nice and warming.

After the first two I could probably have stopped but decided to be greedy.

- Goat Roti, Rasa £6.5 - this was a local version of murtabak, with a nice soft roti (slightly crisp but could have been moreso) with mince meat in there. The curry sauce helped add flavour and moisture to the mix.

Each of them was a little expensive for the serve (I suppose that is testament to the popularity of the place) but of the three, the goat roti is the one I would get again. However if alone, next time I would go for a main instead.

Hoppers Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Bar Casa Julio, Cudillero 05-2017

My hotel reception guy recommended El Remo for curadillo. When I asked about other restaurants/foods, he said Julio. There was no thought behind it, just straight answers. After the next couple of days I could see why. I never saw these two restaurants open at the same time - on Wednesday it was Casa Julio, Lonja, the surrounding places next to El Faro and places at the waterfront end. On Thursday is was El Remo, Opera and El Faro. I don't know if there's a system behind it or just the restaurant decision on the day (since for example El Remo said not open on Mondays other than festivals, but was closed on this Tuesday).

In any case Casa Julio and El Remo were always the busiest places. In particular Casa Julio was full for lunch and dinner. I suppose dinner that evening was helped by the Champions League showing (no Spanish team though) and some older guys standing around the bar watching. But the seated areas inside and outside were completely full with people waiting both lunch and dinner. That says something and it was all true.

The little place had a great cosy atmosphere. The staff are very friendly and helpful. My cider was served in a contraption that negated the need to pour from a great height and produced excessive fizz on demand.

I had a side serve of prawns with the cider for €6 (considering cider is €2.5 or so, that's an incredible bargain) compared to the full size prawn dish for €15. I couldn't quite understand if the prawns were bigger or just the serve was bigger in the main (I'm pretty sure the latter), but I'm sure I made the right decision for the cider bonus serve. The prawns were grilled with just a tiny amount of outside singeing but were cooked well inside and heavily salted/seasoned. I ate the whole lot, heads and all, and it was delicious.

I had read about, but wasn't overly interested in the mejillones picantes (since I can cook mussels easily myself) but thought I'd give them a try here as a cheap €8 extra dish to the prawns. I'm glad I did just to see. The mussel meat was reasonably large and the picante sauce is spicy without being very salty. It was good to eat with the basic half baguette served. Sadly half the mussels weren't debearded, but oddly the other half were. Go figure.

This would be my choice of place to eat in Cudillero if you want good simple seafood dishes.

Lonja de Pescado, Cudillero 05-2017

I had read on a blog to eat at the old fish market building which is Lonja de Pescado. As interesting as that sounded, the TA reviews are generally quite average. It's one of the nicest (if not the nicest) looking restaurant in the village. I wasn't really interested in eating there per se, but the menu del dia €17 actually drew me in as it was the most interesting and unique around.

I really wanted to eat the local oricio/erizo/sea urchin and this gave me that opportunity without too much expense (the dish on the a la carte is €17 alone!). One of the signs said menu del dia for a minimum of 2 people, but I asked for 1 and they allowed it (since it was a quiet day for them perhaps).

- Revuelto de merluza y caviar de oricios - a scrambled egg mix with with small chunks of hake and definite segments of sea urchin roe chunks and permeating flavour. The sea urchin had little grainy crunchy bits in it (perhaps a bit of shell or sand?) but not too bothersome. The sea urchin flavour was nice and firm throughout;
- Arroz negro con sepia - this was really strongly flavoured and very salty. After pushing through I asked for lemon which cut threw and balanced it out better (needed to use the equivalent of one whole large lemon for the pan). The rice was nice and very al dente (which I don't mind) but no burnt crust at the bottom (which I prefer). The squid was nice;
- dessert crepe with cream and chocolate sauce - simple, nice chewy crepe.

It wasn't the best menu I've had - the starter was a nice combination of good ingredients but the main was too salty and the dessert very basic (but that's a menu del dia for you!). Nonetheless for the price, it's difficult to complain. I probably wouldn't pick it for a la carte given the prices though. I daresay there would be better value for higher end seafood from El Faro or Opera.

Que no te lo cuenten, Gijon 05-2017

I walked through Cimadevilla looking for something inspiring for dinner. I came up short. El Planeta was closed and other restaurants in the area didn't seem to interest me much and had people standing around drinking and smoking. I felt like something a little quieter. I considered the recommened La Galana in the Plaza Mayor but didn't want to spend that much money. After much more looking, I almost walked into the decent menu del dia (but average reviews) of San Bernado 4 until I saw this quite cool looking corner bar.

Translated (on Google) to "do not let them tell you", I had to go inside to see what the menu offered. It was a Asian/Japanese-inspired menu much to my surprise. Again I didn't want to spend too much, but thought trying an Asian-Asturias fusion place was quite atypical.

Lots of items caught my fancy. But at racion size, it was quite limiting to how much I could order. The croquetas de oricio y manzana sounded great, tartar de atun and more seafood options. But I couldn't resist seeing what gua-bao in Spain is like...

- complimentary appetiser of anchovy with sardine sauce - a intensely potent flavoured anchovy with some sauces for balance. One of the finest anchovies I've eaten. The XXL ones from Santoña were advertised especially in Cudillero, so I wonder if this was one of these;
- Gua-bao de presa iberica con cebolla roja y rabanito €6.4 - that price for one bun is remarkably expensive, higher than even some London prices. The bun was ok but could have been softer and pillowier. I would have liked more meat too for that price, but the pork that was in there was nicely stewed and savoury flavoured. The onion and radish added some nice sweetness for balance in a combination I haven't had elsewhere;
- Tempura de langostinos, trigueros y zanahoria con mahonesa de aka-miso y agridulce €12.9 - black tempura coating some soft, sweet and deshelled prawns (other than the tail). Given some of the sizes of prawns I saw in Asturias, I would have liked to get some really fat ones. The carrot and asparagus tempura was simply coated in relatively unseasoned batter. All were fried well and crisp. The salty sauce of miso went best with the vegetables and the sweet sauce with the prawns (even though I think the waiter told me to eat it the other way... or did he...);

It wasn't the best meal or fusion or Asian food I've had but I'm glad I tried it. It would have been nice to have been able to get a half tempura and a half something else. Combined with the hipster Rawcoco cafe, at least Gijon has some different options to the Oviedo.

Restaurante Mercante, Gijon 05-2017

For the uno de mayo public holiday, it was nice to see that lots of food places were still open. My hotel receptionist was quite clear in saying everything is closed, other than restaurants.

I had read from a blog site about Asturias that Cimadevilla and in particular the old fisherman quarters along Cuesta del Cholo was the place to be. The hotel guy suggested El Planeta in the area but in the end I chose Mercante as it looked more relaxed, had an outdoor area where people sit and drink (even though it was a little chilly for us on that day) and looked a little cheaper.

The upstairs was nicely decorated with some very average ocean views (but ocean nonetheless). Sangria de Sidra €8 was something we had yet to try and it was what it sounded like - sangria made with cider instead of red wine. It was obviously a lighter colour and a bit less strong in tannins.

It had been recommended to us a few times to try cachopo somewhere, the local version of schnitzel, cordon bleu, parma etc.

- Ensalada de Tomate y Mozzarella €10 - simple. Quite expensive for the amount of mozzarella given;
- Pulpo a la Gallega €16 - we actually ordered the waiter's recommended pulpo en vinagre but for some reason got this instead. It had a little bit of bite to it, which I don't mind, (but we had eaten ridiculously soft pulpo a la gallega in Oviedo);
- Chipirones €11 - fried tasty salty baby squid. Nothing more to say;
- Cachopo de Ternera €20 - this beast would feed 2-3 on its own reasonably comfortably. It was nicely fried and crisp on the outside housing rare sliced beef and oozing with mild cheese and a layer of red pepper. It wasn't too salty and was quite good. I can see why it's a specialty of Asturias and many restaurants advertise it as well as being finalists or winners of a cachopo competition.

The meal was good but not the best we had in Asturias. It was also felt that for the higher end prices the servings were smaller than other places. Maybe that's just Gijon compared to Oviedo, or maybe this popular quarter is using its advantage. I'd try El Planeta (or another restaurant in Cimadevilla) next time just to compare.

Rawcoco, Gijon 05-2017

Considering the hipster look is so natural for Spaniards (the beards, hoop rings for earlobes, tattoos, nose bars), I was still a little surprised to find a hipster cafe in Gijon. It's a raw place, which is an even higher level. The only thing they need now is to add gluten-free and dairy-free although there's a few options for those already.

There website has a smoothie with avocado, dark chocolate and banana which lured me in. However it didn't exist in this place (maybe an updated menu or maybe only the Madrid branch). However the other options were equally enticing - I settled for a Love €5.95 for 500mL and changed my milk from lactose-free to almond (to mix with the chocolate eco, fresas, lucuma, nata y pistachos). The cream made it a little thicker and diluted the flavour slightly of the other ingredients. Whole pistachos added texture. It was good.

I added to the health meal with an Acai bowl €4.5 (base de platano, leche almendras, acai, granola, arandonos, coco rallado) which was sliced banana, strawberry, desiccated coconut granola swimming in an acai and berry thickish almond milk soup. It was refreshing and simple. I think the granola could have been a bit more interesting or the addition of some seeds or more nuts.

Finally I succumbed to a cheesecake dessert €3 which was smooth and sweet with textures of chocolate and walnuts.

It was a huge meal and perhaps not all that healthy in the end, but refreshing and a change from the hearty stews, seafoods and meats I'd other been enjoying in Asturias.

El Remo, Cudillero 05-2017

One of Cudillero's most well known sights is fish hanging and drying on clothes lines stretched out with sticks and left for months. The line I saw outside didn't look the most appetising and perhaps that no flies or wandering cats attacked it may be testament.

I was in two minds about trying it - part of me just wanted guaranteed quality seafood but the adventurer in me thought I had to taste a local Cudillero dish. I asked my hotel reception where to get it, and his simple unwavering answer was "El Remo". Of all the restaurant menus I read, El Remo was actually the only one I recall with curadillo on it, in a little section dedicated to Cudillero specialties (the only other option a kind of tripe dish I think). The other options open for the day were El Faro, Opera, one open on either side of El Faro (which had quite basic menu del dias) and the end of the pier (which had quite good sounding menu del dias but the reviews aren't the best on TA).

Whereas the tourists sat outside of El Remo, I chose the atmospheric interior for lunch much to the amusement of some of the locals. I think even the waiter was surprised when I ordered curadillo - perhaps it isn't the chosen dish for many tourists that go there (possibly not the locals either since they'd make their own).

My fears of a weirdly fermented fish were allayed when I sampled the firm but not tough fish flesh (I didn't ask what fish it was) in between onions, fried potatoes and a single slice of marinated red pepper. The sauce wasn't overly salty too and had deep redness of red pepper and paprika probably, almost like a nice Italian pasta sauce. The brown bread (first place in Spain I've been served brown) mopped up the sauce and sandwiched the fish very well.

Out of the Asturian stews, I probable enjoy fabada more but I would be quite happy to eat curadillo again. I didn't get to try fabas con almejas, but maybe next trip.

I tried the arroz con leche €3.5 at the end, just to have it somewhere in Asturias. To my surprise it came instantly - I had read the top layer is crusted with a hot iron so expected it to take a little longer. But not, it had been sealed in advance and refrigerated. They topped it with too much cinnamon and it was a sweet dish that was too much in the end. Never again (by myself at least). The rice was obviously cold and had a little bit of crunch to it, which I like.

The next day for my final meal in Cudillero and Asturias, I spent a solid amount of time (an hour probably) contemplating where to eat. There were only 3 options open this Thursday evening in May - El Remo, Opera and El Faro. Interestingly I had marked Opera and El Faro before I arrived and only went to

 El Remo earlier at the recommendation of my hotel host.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, I ended up back at El Remo.

In summary, Opera looks like they do more unusual combinations and dress things up fancier. El Faro is off the main strip and looked quite nice too, but their options for seafood didn't appeal to me as much. El Remo was easily the most popular and I think it's because their menu is much more standard, homestyle and with the seafood speaking for itself. El Remo is also a little cheaper for those reasons. I think I would have been very happy in any of them, and I wanted Cantabrian/local seafood, which to be fair is probably most of what any of these restaurants have.

El Remo's suggested dish of Calamares de Cudillero en su tinta €18 won the end. Like the curadillo, it doesn't get more local than that. I really wanted percebes (they didn't have them) or navajas but the waiter said that dish would be enough. And it certainly was a large dish of soft, minimally chewy calamari in a saline black liquid. The brown bread again and more potatoes gave balance. It wasn't so strong that needed lemon (and I had the acidic cider too) but in hindsight that could have been nice.

Restaurante La Costa, Gijon 05-2017

It was actually quite difficult to find restaurant recommendations in Asturias. Tripadvisor has its limitations but I found more reliance on it this trip than other places. In looking for somewhere cheap and cheery to eat, we thought trying to backstreets might be more fruitful than the tourist centre.

My friend wanted to try fabada and meat, so it was limiting looking for a place that both of those. La Costa was the initial target but did not have fabada on the menu. After walking around a while longer, we ended up back here and just asked - yes they had fabada they were preparing for tomorrow. And yes, we could have some.

This was the first place that served complimentary olives. It was a nice change. The cider €2.6 was fine. I found it strange our waitress specifically said they didn't do the high pouring method, however I saw several other waiters in the adjacent room doing it. Odd.

Fabada €8 was a large serve with small pieces of chorizo and morcilla and pork. It was actually a little less strongly flavoured than previous ones - maybe the overnight sit intensifies it more. Nonetheless it was enjoyed with good quality bread. Morcilla Matachana €6.5 was the first time I'd seen it served like this - opened onto little piles on bread with the rich smoothness able to be spread. It finally dawned on me that all morcilla in Asturias was made in this smooth textural way. Finally given the place is an Argentine parrilla, the costillas ternera €13 was bits of cross-section rib on a hot plate. The thick part I ate managed to stay medium rare, but the others cooked to medium quickly, even by sitting them away from the centre quite quickly. It was mildly tender and simply flavoured. Not the best, but adequate.

A cheap solid meal for two in the end.