Fiskeriet, Oslo 08-2012

Living in London has meant that it isn't too difficult for me to find fish and chipperies giving off their sweet fried scent to fill the streets. When I read about some of the best fish and chips around in Oslo, it was worth a big map mark and a circle to ensure I didn't forget it.

Set in a nice plaza that fills with lovely sunshine on a lucky weather day, Fiskeriet doubles as a fishmonger and a lunch venue (officially closes at 6pm, although I did see it open well beyond on a warm evening).

What impressed me once I sat down and looked at the menu was how *normal* the prices seemed. 6 oysters for 110NOK (approx. AUD18) and takeaway fish and chips for 89NOK (approx. AUD15) are prices I'd be content with anywhere else in the world. I did feel the need to sit and enjoy the bar seating which meant I paid 149NOK for my fish and chips - seemed like a slightly excessive surcharge, but still reasonably cheap for any sitdown meal in Oslo.

The fish this day was halibut, crispy fried in a lovely seasoned batter and topped with salt flakes and coriander. Wonderful. The chips were standard, nothing particularly special to say about them. I also had 6 strong oysters from France (fin de clair, as I found out Norway has no local oysters at all) which made it a very satisfying meal altogether.

Next time I would order fish and chips to takeaway and sit in the plaza to absorb some atmosphere.

Apent Bakeri, Oslo 08-2012

This small collection of bakeries is well reputed. On a short city break in Oslo, it makes good sense to stop through one of these. Sure, bread isn't a particularly Norwegian specialty but Scandanavia seems to do it particularly well as I've tasted in each of the restaurants that serves it as a complimentary. Additionally you can use this place as somewhere nice to stop and have a coffee, calorie hit and breather, as well as get some goodies to take away to eat in the park overlooking the Palace and city nearby. Lastly, it is more affordable than any cafe/restaurant for lunch you might otherwise be considering.

I had a croque monsieur which was standard but satisfying. It wasn't the best quality ham nor the cheese as strong as I'd like, but my stomach still appreciated it. I also had a croissant for late which was decent (not as buttery as the best I've had) and a muesli/seeded roll that was a great afternoon (and breakfast the next morning) snack.

Next time I would order the cinnamon buns. I didn't realise this was a particular special of these bakeries, so would have to try it if I was back again. Otherwise I'm sure it won't be too difficult to find something you like.

Lisa Elmqvist, Stockholm 08-2012

As with most places lucky enough to be build upon water, Scandinavia is well known for quality seafood. What seems to be unique is the local ways the seafood is prepared and presented.

Scandinavian seafood dishes seem to make use of tiny little prawns, generally served boiled and chilled, occasionally chopped. Something unique seems to be toast skagen - these little creatures made into a seafood salad and eaten with toast.

Lisa Elmqvist is a known place within a market that combines skills as a fishmonger, a takeaway of chilled seafood, a nice casual bar seated area, and more formal sitting area which allow a few daily hot food options. Being Scandanavia, sometimes looking at the menu makes the price a bit difficult to swallow - but that's what it takes to eat well and known if the reputation is deserved.

I tried the reknowned Toast Skagen SEK135 (mixed shrimps, dill & mayonnaise served on toast, garnished with trout roe) and an additional dish to make a more educated opinion on the place - Avocado Alexandra SEK142 (mix of smoked salmon, shrimps, honey, dijon mustard, sour cream, mayonnaise & basil on avocado).

The seafood quality is excellent. The smoked salmon had an unexpected creamy texture that I haven't come across before, and a lighter smokiness than some of the usual heavily flavoured versions. Both the salmon and shrimp versions of the seafood salad were good too and everyone likes a little caviar to give the dishes extra flavour and texture.

The price is the only consideration you'll need as food in Scandanvia is expensive, and Lisa Elmqvist is probably at the higher end of those places additionally. At least you know the seafood is fresh and quality.

Next time I would order quite happily either of the same dishes. Of both dishes, I probably preferred the Avocado Alexandra, but the Skagen is certainly something you'll struggle to find in other regions of the world. Gravlax is also a specialty of the region I would consider for next time.

Bakfickan, Stockholm 08-2012

I can't say that I recall having specifically Swedish meatballs previously. Even though every Ikea in the world probably serves them, the name never appealed to me. Don't get me wrong; I've always enjoyed the "typical" Italian meatballs usually drenched in delicious pasta sauce and so wondered how different a Swedish version could be.

Given that Scandinavia is extraordinarily expensive especially on food matters, picking only one well respected meatball place in Stockholm was a necessary decision. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there isn't much information out there comparing many nor stating one as the clear city leader. Bakfickan did receive a few very favourable reviews from a travel magazine, tripadvisor and another random internet source and so my decision was made.

Let me start off by simply saying the Kottbullar meatballs SEK165 at Bakfickan are remarkably good. Each bite left me awestruck as to my underestimation of this simple Swedish treat. The difference lies in the taste and particularly the texture - the ridiculously soft and creamy smooth meat gave rise to a light flavour but not the heavy beef I expected from meatballs. I can only imagine the meat mince is ground incredibly finely until it is transformed into a ball of meatball paste.

Bakfickan served it with lingonberry jam (adding sweetness), pickled cucumber (adding tanginess) and mashed potato (adding weight and starch) to bring out a balanced flavoured mouthfull each time.

The complimentary bread was also great and added another texture to the mix, as well as a nice snack in anticipation.

What else can I say? I'm sold on the meatballs.

Next time I would order meatballs, meatballs, meatballs. If stomach space persists, I'd suggest trying the other prevalent local dishes such as roe or crayfish toast or the prawn salad and hope Bakfickan have a nice take on them.

Trzesniewski, Vienna 04-2012

Many internet views of Vienna list Trzesniewski as a must-visit. It is a simple place off the main plaza specialising in snacks of eggs on bread. It really isn't any more complicated than that.

There is a lot of variety to pick from - all kinds of spices and vegetables which have been layered between slabs of essentially chilled scrambled egg. On this occasion I chose picantes (peppers), mushrooms and paprika.

The bread isn't anything special worth particular mention - it is untoasted and quite plain. A nice sourdough would be a better option. The topping is as expected if you read the above description - chills scrambled egg with a particular flavour injected. It really isn't any mindblowing experience that others seem to gain from eating them.

Next time I would order whatever topping you want. It is certainly fine for a daytime snack while wandering through the lovely central streets of Vienna, but I wouldn't go out of my way to find it.

Hog Island Oyster Co, San Francisco 10-2011

San Francisco has a wonderful food scene and likely my favourite of all the cities I visited in the USA. Given the coastal location, it isn't surprising that many of the local specialties involve seafood - Dungeness crab, seafood chowder, oysters etc.

With respect to the latter, Hog Island is a well respected company known for its sustainable farmed oysters.

The Hog Island Oyster Co restaurant at the Ferry Building along the harbourside is the place in San Francisco to eat them. They also branch out and import a variety from around the USA and even a few from overseas. Although we had a short wait in line outside, you are standing along the harbour and enjoying the world pass by, the sights in the distance, and the oysters being served up to the lucky guests earlier than you.

On our particular visit they had their usual Hog Island Sweetwater oysters and the other prevalent local Kumamoto oysters, as well as the respected Kusshi oysters from BC, and some I hadn't heard of before - Hama Hama and Blue Pool (Washington), Island Creek (Massachusetts) and even one from New Zealand!

If you feel inclined, there are hot options for oysters, of which we tried Casino (butter, Spanish paprika, bacon, shallots, thyme) and Lobster Butter (House preserved lemon, cilantro, lobster, butter). There are also a few serving sized dishes to pick from with clams or oysters.

All the oysters were fantastic and fresh, ranging from a light sweet flavour all the way to a strong ocean intensity. The cooked oysters were tasty also, although I always prefer fresh. We also tried the Clam Steamers (Manila clams with Corona beans and Mexican-style chorizo) which was a delicious heavily-flavoured clam soup.

Next time I would order whatever types of oysters you prefer - ask your server to suit them to your taste. The hot dishes are definitely worth a try if in the mood. The food quality and outdoor setting is worth a warm evening out.

Hog Island Oyster Company on Urbanspoon

Bouquet Garni, Malta 06-2012

#1 on Tripadvisor for Mellieha and the whole of Malta is Bouqeut Garni. I thought a restaurant in Malta with a French name would be a slight risk but after a disappointing first night at the #2 restaurant in Mellieha this seemed like the only option for redemption. What a fantastic meal.

Located on a non-descript corner on the main room (which meant the unfortunate occasional raucous as local buses went by), the restaurant comprises a local family with two parents who attend to the guests and serve with great manners and two self-taught sons who prepare the meals in the kitchen.

At the start of the night, you are presented with the a serving platter of the freshly delivered fish of the evening. Depending upon the luck of the catch, this could also include a lovely little lobster from which to choose your seafood. Given this presentation, it would be a serious folly to not have the all-local seafood platter. Ours comprised of a whole baked fish, 4 large pieces of perfectly seared rare tuna, some large grilled prawns and some of the juiciest mussels I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. This was served with a large serve of beautifully roasted potatoes and nice vegetables to balance the meal.

The entree salad of (an unexpected large wheel of fried) blue cheese, salad and apples was a nice introduction to the meal but certainly secondary to the main. I would only suggest it for those who are cheese-fanatics.

If in Mellieha, eat here. Support the family, eat good food, be happy.

Next time I would order the seafood platter again. There is no contest (unless dining on your own in which case it may be excessively large). If available, the lobster spaghetti looked fantastic as an alternative for 1 or to share.

Rebekah's Restaurant, Malta 06-2012

Researching food in Malta was interesting. As a small mediterranean set of islands, it would be expected that Greek and Italian influences would colour these foods - and these two countries are home to two of the most flavoursome cuisines in the world. It seemed strange that many reviews of Maltese food deemed it a poor cousin to these. Nonetheless when surrounded by ocean, it can't be too difficult to find decent food especially seafood right?

Mellieha was home for a few days, especially chosen for its proximity to a lovely stretch of beach, access to the northern tip to boat around Gozo and Cosimo, a single bus ride direct to Valletta, and most importantly a good selection of restaurants in town.

Rebekah's Restaurant is rated #2 in Mellieha on Tripadvisor - usually I don't put so much emphasis on Tripadvisor reviews but there isn't much to read online. Reviews are scant and most are overwhelmingly complementary.

It is a nice adventure to find it. It is the one restaurant well off the main street, walking up public stairs, through neighbourhood streets and to a quiet corner. Unfortunately the eating experience didn't live up to the hype of a first meal in Malta.

Complementary bread and croquet was fine; no faults here. The starter Fritto Misto €11.95 (fried prawn, calamari, white bait, fresh fish, mussels) was terrible - heavily over fried and thus the ingredients lacked intrinsic flavour and any fresh texture. The Baked Brie €9.75 wrapped in Filo Pastry had a powerfully strong blue cheese taste - not for me, but cheese-likers won't mind it at all.

Intermission of Cucumber & Vodka sorbet €2 was a nice refreshing interruption. Certainly not necessary, but cleansing (and charged without ordering it).

The restaurant made a point of showing us the fresh fish of the day Dott €23.95 which sadly was again badly overcooked - I really can't remember much else about the dish. The Pan Fried Wild Boar €24.95 (not a local ingredient unfortunately) had an expected game flavour and was cooked to a nice medium rareness but still remained chewy. The Maltese sausage and black pudding fritters (ie. croquettes) it came with was delicious though.

Most of the all the biggest problem was time. The indoor part of the restaurant was only half full (and there is a rooftop outdoor area that I did not see) but the time taken to serve was ridiculous. That no wait staff ever approached to inform us made it even more unacceptable. From the time on my photos, the night progressed as: 1925 arrival 1935 menu 1947 bread 2004 croquette 2031 entrees 2054 sorbet 2123 main. I think 1 hour for entrees and another 1 hour for mains to be served is below expectation.

This is the first restaurant I've researched into and would not recommend. It had to happen sometime and it is sad to be from a small local place.

Next time I would order from the restaurant nearby on the local street named Bouquet Garni. However if you end up here, the Fish Soup entree and Chateaubriand Carved at your Table looked like the best bets.

Tramshed, London 06-2012

A major concept sweeping through new restaurant openings is specialising in a select dishes only. The limited menu makes choice very simple for diners who at least know what they are coming for, ensures the restaurant cooks the specialties repetitively well and at least waiters don't need to deal with fickle customers (like me!).

The Tramshed in Shoreditch specialises in two simple delicacies - chicken and steak. Chips are chips, salads are there for balance, and dessert is for completeness.

Roast Woolley Park Farm free-range chicken (for 2-3) or the smaller version poussin (for 1) are delightfully roasted and served whole, ass up in the air with a silver spoon buried within it. The claws are dramatically sky-high and make easy handles to gnaw on tender drumsticks. As expected the chicken is cooked well without any dry texture. The flavour is basic - pure roast chicken, but isn't particularly unique. The alternative Mighty Marbled Glenarm sirloin steak is a lovely rare specimen with nice flavour up there with the reputed London steakhouses. We added some decent chips, fried onions, salad, vegetables and a simple chocolate ripple cheesecake which were all great supporters.

As tasty and textured as the chicken and steak are, it does seem difficult to justify a £25 chicken compared to the local £4-5 Whitechapel variety (which although doesn't have the some delicacy, does impart a more unique flavour) or even roast chicken from the local chicken & chip places around local neighbourhoods. The steak is delicious but at £40 per 500g is slightly higher than even the specialty steakhouses.

The restaurant building looks like an airport hanger except with a giant cow and chicken elevated to God-like status in a formaldehyde tank in the middle. It sets a nice atmosphere, although the massive roof does lend to an impersonal feel and can be a little chilly.

In the end it's a fun experience with a chicken served like you'll never see it again. Just a bit pricey for something that seems simple.

Next time I would order the same - there isn't really much choice to change. In the end I think the steak was closer to the top of the range than the chicken, but noone is going to serve a whole cow on its head with legs in the air. I'd pay if that did though.

HIX at The Tramshed on Urbanspoon

Best of Eating London

With the 2012 Summer Olympics due to start tomorrow and the influx of millions of athletes, support staff and tourists, it seems as good a time as any to recommend places to gain calories. Given that the majority of people will come and go in two weeks and likely everywhere in central London will be bustling full regardless, and that most locals intend to stay away from these main areas I don't have fears of these places being overrun to the point of annoyance. Having said that, as I live in the east (and Olympic Park is slightly more east than me) and my most regular eating places are local I won't be surprised to see a few extra people around.

If you read this post, then you deserve to eat well.

Favourite Restaurant in London - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
More reasonably priced, conveniently located and equally tasty to The Fat Duck. Not as theatrical but the one place to be if you were lucky enough to get a reservation months ago. See my post for the recommendations.

Favourite Minimal Choice - Burger and Lobster
Well known as the lobster-place-to-be. Once again be prepared to wait with the no bookings policy, but apparently you are able to wander locally and they will call you when your table is ready. Get the lobster for the best value or the lobster roll for something more balanced. Don't even think about the equally priced burger.

Favourite Burger - MEATliquor
The best burger I've eaten. Some may find this a bit tasteless if used to the heavily salted versions found elsewhere around the world as these patties are thick pure rare beef flavour. A bit oily and messy to eat and likely to leave you waiting outside, but worth the entry. The more recent MEATmarket in Covent Garden is a takeaway version of the same thing.

Favourite Fish & Chips - Poppies (Shoreditch)
When you walk along the street you can smell the alluring frying scent. Inside you will find beautifully crisp batter coating soft delicate fish. If on the move, a cone of chips will keep you happy and satisfied. 

Favourite Sharing - Ceviche (Soho), Wahaca (Canary Wharf), Boho (Shoreditch)
Serving happy dishes of ceviche, guacamole, various meat and fish dishes. There are also lots of tapas places in central London all of which are recommended (and some quite pricey) and none of which I can tell you the difference between.

Favourite Healthy Food - Kastner & Ovens (Spitalfields) and Beatroot Cafe (Soho)
Both have similar concepts - fresh salads that vary daily that you select into a takeaway box for a deliciously healthy meal. Beatroot is vegetarian, Kastner & Ovens has optional hot meaty food to have with your salads. Must try the "sausage" rolls at Beatroot and anything with beetroot at K&O.

Favourite Breakfast - The Breakfast Club (Spitalfields)
Inspired by the 80s movie, the decor is a trendy retro diner style. Great breakfasts ranging from muesli to eggs to Mexican. Team it up with a healthy smoothie, lovely morning mojito or a jug of sangria for the perfect that to the day.

Favourite Markets - Borough Market (Saturday preferred), Broadway Market (Saturday), Sunday Upmarket (off Brick Lane)
Borough Market is the well known staple that all visitors should see. Teemingly busy on a Saturday, try some samples, pick up some gourmet supplies, fresh produce and make sure the fresh oysters and clams (especially clams if you like strong ocean flavour) and chorizo rolls make it into your belly.
Broadway Market is much more local in the east. A more spacious street for enjoying life and the Momofuku-style pork buns from Yum Bun, roast pork crackling rolls and more.
Sunday Upmarket sets up within an indoor carpark. Vintage clothes stalls hide the true gems of street food stalls that have people sitting all over streets eating. Cantonese, Indian, Sri Lankan, Ethiopian, Lithuanian, Mexican, cupcakes and more. My personal favourite is Carribean which serves chicken and fried plantains. Go at 6pm for the closing time when everything becomes discounted between £1.50-4 each. 

Favourite Curry - Needoo (Whitechapel)
Avoid Brick Lane - that is common knowledge. Go to Tayyabs - that is common knowledge. However Tayyabs guarantees a lengthy >30min wait and the smell of meat-body-odour sticking to your body and clothes after you leave. Needoo around the corner (run by the ex-manager of Tayyabs) has a similar menu, similar flavours and reasonable prices and much less touristed. Guaranteed to please are the meat biryani and dry meat curry and lamb chops (not that "meat" on the menu is generally lamb).

Favourite Asian - C&R Cafe (Chinatown)
Tucked away in a small alley in Chinatown on a street unmarked on Google Maps, this is the place that gives me my Malaysian food fix and makes me happy on my days off. Har mee, assam laksa and ice kacang will keep you happily enjoying Asian flavours that are difficult to find in London.

Places recommended but untried - Pitt Cue Co, Dabbous, Pollen Street Social, Opera Tavern, Roganic, La Bodega Negra.