Bistro For, Hvar Town 10-2012

Walking along the waterside in Hvar Town, I was beckoned to sit down on a bench by a male in the late 20s or early 30s. I was a bit unclear about his intentions - could he be touting me for a tour or trying to lure me into a brothel given the off-season had just started? He started asking where I was from and what I was doing in town. He introduced himself as a local and proceeded to give me information about the place - sites to visit, directions to walk, recommended times of day to go to places, even directed me to a place to have my sunglasses fixed. Part of the conversation naturally included food, and he suggested For restaurant for simple local food that people eat at home.

Thanking him for his recommendation I went past several hours later and noted the menu included Gregada, which I was specifically determined to try. Gregada is simply recommended described online as a type of fish stew that originated and thus is best eaten in Hvar.

For's version was a locally caught Gilt-Head Bream HRK116 for 290g (recommended choice by the waitress) braised on sauce with olive oil, onion, white wine and potatoes. It came with a refreshing bowl of salad HRK15 (mala sezonska sala) and bread to soak up the juices. The flavour combination (as you can gather from the ingredients listed) is certainly not unique as I'm quite sure various regions of Europe have influenced each other. The sauce was surprisingly mild with light fishy taste accentuated by a hint of white wine. The fish was fresh with soft flesh easy to eat. I savoured every part including the cheeks.

Next time I would order the Gregada although with more people a larger meatier fish could be used. Additionally the price of Gregada at For is approximately 30-50% cheaper than other places, especially those restaurants along the port and the more upmarket/expensive ones behind on the other side. There is a good selection of other seafood dishes, pastas and risotto also to try.

Na Kantunu, Rijeka 10-2012

After taking the train from Slovenia to Croatia, I was looking forward to my first meal in this well-reputed but still much less popular country. Most people know about the far south Dubrovnik and the islands of Dalmatia. The northern Istria region is known as a food haven with much influence from the adjacent Italy.

Although not strictly in Istria, I hoped to find Istrian white truffles in Rijeka, but after much walking around I wasn't able to find any restaurant which sold dishes with them (maybe I was a little too early in the year) nor any shops that had any fresh to sell. Therefore my backup was to take advantage of the fact that Croatia has the highest proportion of seaside coast than any country in the world, and eat seafood.

There isn't much information online for dining in Rijeka - it is probably more of a town people pass through or take ferries from than anything else. After much walking, I settled into Na Kantunu for its location in a quiet area near the waterway, there were only a few diners this cold, raining evening and there was some nice space to rest before my overnight bus.

From the recommendation of the host for whatever was most fresh and local that day which seemed focussed upon cuttlefish and squid.

The Black Risotto HRK30 (rizot lignje mala) was delicious - beautifully al dente rice, thick black salty sauce, and tender delicious cuttlefish pieces. The best version of this dish I've had throughout Australia, Mediterranean and even dare I say Spain.

Following the theme of freshness that day, I also had the Small Cuttlefishes & Squids HRK45 (lignje domace) local, boned and fried whole. These were thick pieces of whole squid fried until crispy. A squeeze of fresh lemon complemented the oil and salt well. It was served with a kind of mash mix of potato and spinach - for a bit of balance and to fill you up.

Next time I would order the Black Risotto again. The Red Risotto sounds delicious also, but the host specifically recommended the Black which is why I settled upon it. I think there are many places in the world that can fry seafood well, so I would stick to other cooking methods here. Unfortunately they didn't have Shells that day else I would have ordered that. Fresh local fish of the day is also a good looking alternative.

Mugaritz, San Sebastian 06-2012

The finest booking of my San Sebastian gourmet adventure was the San Pellegrino World #3 Mugaritz. I hadn't previously dined at any Spanish juggernaut restaurants and so I was interested to see the difference between gourmet gastronomy Spanish, and those that I was more familiar with in more traditional Spanish and gourmet international/French.

Opinions online have suggested that of the restaurant selection panel between Mugaritz, Arzak (which was closed during the period of my visit), Martin Berasategui, Akelare and others, Mugaritz was rated by diners most commonly to be the favourite, occasionally the least liked, but always the most inventive.

Our menu €165pp differed slightly from the order printed.

- "Satiation eludes bread and olives" - edible paper (tastes like Eucharest bread) & olive paste;
- Garlic tempura - delicious garlic flower tempura with a rich fragrant taste;
- "Fishbones" with nuances of lemon, garlic & cayenne pepper
- Edible stones - boiled potato stones with an odd crunchy shell exterior with garlic mayonnaise;
- Flax and wheat "Kraft" paper with crab coral & sunsho - edible paper with a spot of sea urchin roe covered with crab meat. Fantastic umami flavours, textures of crisp paper, crab flesh and soft uni;
- Slices of foie-gras cured in clay & Sichuan peppercorns. Bath of apple extract - sliced creamy foie gras in apple water. A little strange;

There was a short interlude at this point where we were invited to see the kitchen. They gave as their version of a macaron comprised of pig's blood for the exterior and blue cheese filling. Unexpectedly tasty.

- Ravioli of aromatic vegetables - gelatinous pasta enclosing fresh soft parsley, mint, tarragon, thyme resulting in an explosion of herb flavours;
- Hazelnut & beans stew - warm soft hazelnuts, black beans, mother of pearl and onion;
- Cured cheese, in its own rind, mushrooms & coastal herbs - linen seeds processed in milk then into a clay oven for 2-3 days forming a soft gelatinous and very strong blue cheese;
- Artichoke & Iberian ham "tat in". Clam Chantilly - actually a mirage from lemon rind & potato hash, clam foam;
- Roasted loin of hake with clashing grains of ages mascarpone, cauliflower & almonds - hake with raw cauliflower & mascarpone;
- Daily catch with acidic sprouts of amaranth & vanilla - scorpion fish, amaranth, vanilla, roe forming a very strong fishy taste;
- Breast of guineafowl with lobster emulsion & its roasted skin - sesame seed/linseed/pepper/saffron mortared into pieces, added lilly flower/cosmo herb/soft fowl breast and smoky crackling, filled with a rather weak flavoured lobster soup. The smell of the crushed spices then infused into the soup was the highlight; 
- Crunchy terrine of Iberian pig tails with a bunch of bitter leaves & Txakoli sediments - divine pork texture and flavour. One for the memories;
- Mint - mint soaked in alcohol with white rum powder;
- "Forgotten memory from childhood." Small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream - sensational lemon cream atop a waffle cracker. So good we asked for seconds;
- "Traditional" almond Fairy cake - nutty ice-cream cake;
- Vanilla-Fern - edible fake vanilla pods with sugar and swiped onto chocolate ganache;

Finally we were given dehydrated paper towels to reconstitute, followed by an enormous wooden box of hazelnuts coated in chocolate and cocoa powder, sitting on top of an edible earth of chocolate pieces and seeds. We asked to take the leftovers home, which they granted us for the hazelnuts.

Altogether a very special and interesting meal. There were some incredible highlights, a lot of good combinations, and the occasionally oddity. Definitely a recommendation to try and have your food senses challenged, but it isn't the type of place or menu I would come back for in the near future.

Martin Berasategui, San Sebastian 06-2012

Martin Berasategui's restaurant has a large number of accolades. It was in the Top 50 restaurants in the world for 6 years, culminating at 27 before falling out in 2012 and also holds the TA #1 position for San Sebastian, which is a feat given the quality of restaurants in the town. Online reviewers comparing the great restaurants of San Sebastian often suggest that his 'greatest hits' menu is the one to go for and is perhaps the most friendly, accessible and easily liked cuisine in amongst the gastronomy restaurants.

The restaurant was quiet for lunch in June, with only one other table that day. After a taxi ride, we ended up in a lovely restaurant that included a balcony area overlooking the grassy hillsides of the region.

The menu €175pp seemed to be more recent than I would expect for a greatest hits, but was full of bright colours, foams and tasty jellies with no dish disappointing or tasting awkward. He seems to especially like green.

"I propose that you allow me to seduce you in small mouthfuls... seductive, light and succulent, they will whet your appetite and be the introduction to a magnificent meal"

- 1995 Mille-Feuille of Smoked Eel, Foie-Gras, Spring Onions & Green Apple - flavour mix of buttery foie gras, sweet apple, salty eel;
- 2001 Squid Soup, Creamy Squid Ink Ravioli served with Squid Crouton - deliciously strong squid dish, slivers of soft flesh, sweet ink morsel.

"This will be followed by:"

- 2011 Oyster with Cucumber, Kaffir & Coconut - cold oyster in a beautiful salty sweet Thai-style broth;
- 2012 Morsel of Asparagus & Raw Truffle, Air & Juice - strong truffle flavour, light cheese, roast sunflower seeds adding texture;
- 2009 Little Pearls of Raw Fennel, Risotto & Emulsion - raw crispy fennel topping soft sweet 'risotto' of fennel pieces, air emulsion;
- 2012 Smoked Balloon with Mille-Feuilles of Endives, Oily Fish, Watercress & Chickweed - smoked fish liquid balloons with smokey mackerel pieces, watercress broth, light cheese;
- 2011 "Gorrotxategi" Egg Resting on a Herb Liquid Salad & Dewlap Carpaccio - perfect poached yolk, beetroot pieces, green herb sauce, truffle oil & vintage cheese;
- 2001 Warm Vegetable Hearts Salad with Seafood, Cream of Lettuce & Iodized Juice - gorgeous plate of colourful salad ingredients, tomato water, jelly salad;
- 2011 Roast Red Mullet with Crystals of Edible Scales, Tail & Marine Salad with Sesame & Nuts - meaty portions of pig tail, soft mullet, juice tasting like wakame, almond cream;
- 2011 Grilled Sirloin "Luismi" over a Bed of Swiss Chard Chlorophyll & Cheese Bonbon - rare local San Sebastian beef, good combination with cheese, salt and chlorophyll.

"And desserts to finish:"

- 2012 Melon with Caipirinha, Lemongrass Sorbet, Crispy Flowers & Sheep's Milk - alcoholic jelly, sweet melon, delicious subtle lemongrass sorbet;
- 2012 Chocolate Frost with Mint, Asparagus, Caramelised Pumpkin & Bitter Coffee Icecream - chocolate & orange aerated sponge, bitter coffee icecream, mint, ice, asparagus pearls;
- tower of petit fours - cinnamon milk drink, alcoholic cranberry juice, portions of pistachio nougat chocolate.

Overall an excellent meal. The flavours were great and no dishes were questionable. In comparison to Akelare and Mugaritz, I think Martin Berasategui had the most straight forward dishes using fine gastronomical technique, although the other two probably have a more inventive edge.

Akelare, San Sebastian 06-2012

Set on a hill overlooking the ocean, Akelare is known for having one of the classically top 3 chefs in San Sebastian and for commanding a magnificent mountain-top view over the ocean. Given that Spanish dinners start at 8:30pm (and the opening time for many of the top restaurants in San Sebastian is thus 8:30pm), the perfect season to go is summer when it coincides with sunset.

Unluckily for me, this particular summer day was fraught with rain, fog and cloud. Throughout dinner the skies got darker, there was a glimpse of the ocean below at one brief point, but otherwise disappeared amongst mist. At least the food was good.

Akelare offers two tasting menus named Aranori and Bekarki. I don't know if there is a different concept between the two, but I chose Bekarki €145 as it sounded more molecular.

Sea Garden Appetizers
- Prawn's Sand - dried mini-prawns ground into a crispy crustacean sand;
- Oyster Leaf. Take the leaf & feel its flavour & aroma - a leaf that tastes like an oyster. Don't understand how, go figure;
- Mussel with "Shell", now that it with the spoon, whole in your mouth - mussel coated in cocoa;
- Sea Urchin's Sponge - onion-flavoured textual sponge, but couldn't detect any sea urchin;
- Beach Pebbles (shallot & corn) - soft corn morsel;
- Codium Seaweed Coral (goose barnacles tasting tempura) - crispy seaweed tempura.
Served with a drink of pomegranate and kava.

Bekarki Menu
- Xangurro in Essence, its Coral Blini and "Gurullos" (the crustacean's meat is reinforced by its juice. Accompany with the pasta that looks like rice grains) - intense crab-flavoured combination of crab meat patty, wet bread soaked in a thick crab liquid and served with salty fish rice;
- Razor Shell with Veal Shank (combine razor shell with veal and cauliflower mushroom. Textures, flavours, contrasts...) - oceany soft clam, thick meaty veal jus, delicate slight crunchy fungus;
- Sauteed Fresh Foie Gras with "Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper" (sauteed foie gras with a lot of "Salt'n'Pepper") - perfectly warm and cooked delicious foie gras onto which the waitress dumped a shocking amount of "salt" (crystallised sugar) and "pepper" (fried vanilla rice cream) which complemented the flavours beautifully;
- (alternative course to foie gras) Pasta Carpaccio, Piquillo and Iberic with Parmesan shrooms (homemade pasta with piquillo and Iberic flavour. It feels like eating cold meat, even though it's vegetable) - black truffle slices on a light thin pasta, but not enough mushroom flavour;
- Turbot with its "Kokotxa" (the preparation is made entirely with turbot, including its "kokotxa". Pil-pil sauce. A crispy chip of its own skin") - turbot with fake cheek, soft like mash with a strong salty fish flavour;
- "Desalted" Cod Box with Shavings (crystallized cod presented in a fish box, over eatable shavings & cod tripes in tomato water) - cod flesh covered with rice powder, salt, served on pasta shavings and cod tripe in a clarified tomato sauce (like pure natural MSG);
- Roasted Suckling Pig with Tomato "Bolao" & Iberian Emulsion (to get a crisp & juicy texture, the baby pig is cooked in Iberian broth and finished in the oven. Start with the baby pig with tomato "bolao", continue with another bit of the Iberico emulsion. Finish tasting all together. Tomato "bolao". Iberico emulsion) - cute potato chip pig, roasted garlic, vegetable liquid and excellent pork with crispy skin;
- Carved Beef, Tail Cake "Potatoes and Peppers" (red meat, like we eat the rib. Tail cake with foie gras. Eat with your fingers the coppered potato and the piquillo peppers and the meat with a little bit of the juice) - superb rare beef, crispy chips and sweet sauce;
- Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution (grapevine, curded sheep milk & walnut. Powdered fresh cream with chives & grapes. Quark cheese with nutmeg & pink pepper aroma, must of tapioca & tomato. Idiazabal semi-matured with quince jelly & wine dust. Brandy sirop with gorgonzola cheese ice-cream. Torta of Casar's grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximenez. Start from the left to the right to recognise each and every of the different flavours that the milk has, as well as the transformations that the grape & milk suffers from the origin up to the oldness) - from the left, weak like tofu, sweet grape light cheese, salty yoghurt, strong, and lastly ultra strong;
- Layered Strawberry & Cream (a reconstructed strawberry. Strawberries and cream flavour and a basil seeds game) - squeaky basil and raspberry seeds, and a giant "strawberry" of white chocolate coating a strawberries & cream filling topped with mint. Brilliant design.

Overall an excellent meal of creative reconstructions, various textures and flavours from both quality natural ingredients and innovative designed ingredients. Although not in the San Pellegrino Top 100 restaurants, Akelare is commonly listed in the top 3 in San Sebastian. One of the key factors is the combination of menu quality with the setting high on the cliff is unmatched, and so I would certainly try and reserve a table next to the window on an evening when the sunset will be colourful and late.

Androuet, London 12-2012

Looking for a dinner close to home that was untested had few options. Luckily with the thriving food options of Shoreditch and Spitalfields, there is always something available. Androuet is a dedicated specialty cheese shop in Spitalfields market that happens to have a dining menu that makes use of their products.

It might seem excessive to have an entire meal based on cheese, especially when I'm not the biggest fan, but worth trying once.

- Bleu des Cousses (blue), Gratte Palille (soft), St Nectaire (medium hard), Trufflew with white truffle honey with Caramelised Walnuts with Honey & Thyme, Caramelised Onion Chutney - a selection of cheeses from their store. Trufflew was a sweet favourite. Other comments were that the blue wasn't as strong as expected;
- Selection of Nibbles (parmesan & cardamom crisps, croquette with brie & prosciutto, Welsh rarebit with Westcombe cheddar) - Welsh rarebit was my favourite dish with aged cheddar melted on baguette. The croquette was smooth and rich also.
- Selection of Charcuterie (guinea fowl & cepes terrine, speck, rillette, saucisson de Montagne, pickles) - meaty terrine and a spreadable flaky rillette were the choices from this platter;
- Chorizo Iberico - simple, straight forward;
- Androuet Cheese Burger (29 days aged beef, bacon, Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese, hand cut chips) - unexpectedly the chips were some of the best I've had as crispy perfectly shaped rectangles with good salt and crispy outsides. The burger was a good medium rare to order but the cheese wasn't very strong amongst the other elements;
- Camembert baked with Almonds, Honey & Pears - an intense dish of molten cheese, incredibly strong with some honey to balance out the flavour. Not a dish to ever have on your own;
- Androuet Tartiflette (layers of potatoes, bacon, onion, cream topped with rich Reblochon cheese from Monsieur Paccard) - a baking dish of potatoes topped with cheese & bacon sitting in oil and a cheese rind on top. Again a bit too heavy on cheese.

Other than the burger, I enjoyed the starters most. The mains do seem to be suited toward cheese fanatics who can eat large amount of it in one sitting, much like a fondue. For the rest of us, I think stick to the less intense dishes.

Next time I would order Welsh rarebit, Croquettes and Selection of Charcuterie to start, Cheese Burger for main, and an additional order of hand cooked chips. Only if you are in a group that likes fondue would I ever suggest considering any of the heavy cheese mains.

Androuet on Urbanspoon

Hackteufel, Heidelberg 11-2012

It seemed most appropriate to find a nice German bistro in the gorgeous streets of Heidelberg. All I really wanted was somewhere to try local cuisine. The region is apparently known for three things - black forest cake, wild boar and schnitzel. Wild boar was something I felt the need to try before leaving town.

I had read to try two of Hackteufel's popular dishes. Sauerkraut-Orgie for the hungry, Apfelstrudel for the sweet and luckily they had a Wild Boar dish also.

- Sauerkraut-Orgie - smooth mildly spicy sausage, slices of a pork loaf with chestnuts, lovely pork belly with crispy skin, a warm mess of fried pickled onion with some pork bits, and the standard thick starchy dumpling;
- Odenwalder Wildschweinsmedaillons - slightly chewy wild boar with delicious sauteed mushrooms, sweet cranberries, salad and a dumpling;
- Apfelstrudel - satisfying without being special, served with really great vanilla icecream and smooth vanilla custard.

I wouldn't say that any of the dishes were exceptional, but they were all hearty and filling. True to my previous opinion, German cuisine isn't known to be spectacular, more industrial to serve purpose and this certainly did that.

I would eat at Schnitzelbank at first choice, but since this is only open at night, Hackteufel is a safe choice for lunch.

Next time I would order any of the pork dishes since it is the most local. Of the meats I tried, the pork belly was probably the best and so Pork Roast Bavarian-Style looks like a good option for next time.

Chocolate Company, Heidelberg 11-2012

The Chocolate Company (or ChCo for short) is a Dutch-based company with a few select stores in Netherlands, Poland and Germany. I had read an online comment about the quality of their chocolate brownie and thought it would be a good way to top up my calorie count for breakfast on an icey morning.

Luckily they also have a large selection of chocolate products to buy for yourself or to gift to others. I ended up spending nearly €70 on a couple of enormous 800g chocolate blocks, a few smaller samples and their specialty of spoons for flavoured hot chocolate drinks.

I tasted a sample of the Schwarzwalder (Black Forest) which is a specialty of the region. This was fantastic, with a lovely 65% dark chocolate riddled with some candied cherry and hazelnuts soaked with aniseed flavour. One of the most unique chocolate blocks I've ever tried. Naturally an 800g block of this was on the shopping list.

The Chocolate Brownie is a heavy smooth dark chocolate riddled with a base of walnuts. A little too much for breakfast, but would be perfect to share for a late night treat. They recommended having it at room temperature although I tend to like warm generally.

Next time I would order the Chocolate Brownie warmed up to eat in and a Schwarzwalder bar to walk around with. Delicious.

La Conca, Turin 11-2012

Turin dining turned out to be more disappointing than I anticipated. Considering the Piedmont region is well regarded for food and not particularly heavily touristed, I found it surprising my choices were subpar.

On this cold rainy evening, I had tried to book at the two restaurants that really had my interest and intent - Kido-ism (a Japanese chef with fusion Italian cuisine, TA #2) and Combal.O (a reputedly amazing Italian molecular gastronomy restaurant that has featured in the San Pellegrino Top 50). Unfortunately these were booked out on a Saturday night. The last option was for a more local experience at Ristorante Il Circolo dei Lettori, but I decided to pick La Conca which also had favourable reviews and much better location very close to where I was staying near the train station.

I'm disappointed I went and sat amongst predominantly English speaking diners for a meal that was very average.

- Agnolotti di Plin alla Piemontese - typical Piedmont ravioli topped with parmigiano reggiano. Adequately cooked al dente although not particularly tasty nor special.
- Braciola Frentana - involtini of pork filled with celery, carrot and pancetta and topped with a tomato-based sauce. Very average overcooked pork outside with an inspired filling.

Next time I would order at another place. I suppose this restaurant is convenient if you are staying near the main train station and don't want to go far, but I would suggest putting a bit more effort and not joining the rest of the tourists and American businessmen who come here.

Schnitzelbank, Heidelberg 11-2012

I've never thought of German food as particularly exciting. It really does tend to be just lots of fried and roasted meats. Although generally quite simplistic in flavour, they do these things surprisingly well.

Thus when I saw the Tripadvisor number 1 in Heidelberg was a German cuisine place, I was curious. There isn't a lot of information out there to compare for this city, which is surprising as it is a gorgeous classic city very near the enormous transport hub of Frankfurt.

Schnitzelbank gets easy full marks for atmosphere - a rather small cosy bar with mainly communal tables. On my Tuesday night during a cold evening seating was easy to find amongst mainly Germans eating, drinking and making new friends with whoever sat near them.

The wintry special of Gluh-wein was a very sweet version and easy to drink.

Schnitzelbank had to have gotten schnitzel right or it would be laughable. Luckily the schnitzel was a really tasty 1/2 inch thick pork fried in a crispy and nicely uneven textured surface. It was a real difference from the complete uniform breadcrumb versions I've had in Austria and Slovenia. This was more like a fish'n'chip style coating with a slight taste of having been fried with some butter. The pork itself was a little chewy but the flavour especially with lemon made up for it. This came with crisp fried potato pieces which were a decadent man's fries. The healthy part was a pickled spinach in a buttery mash.

I was tempted by the Apple Strudel dessert but the barman didn't seem that excited by it, recommending instead a dessert of Stewed Raspberries in a hot wine sauce with vanilla icecream and cream. Very very sweet; a little too much for me.

Next time I would order any of the 3 schnitzels that give Schnitzelbank its name. I chose mine as it is the classic version and I particularly wanted the fried potatoes. I'd also try the Apple Strudel just to know.