Cardak, Skopje 01-2020

The area around Bohemian Street is full of lively restaurants (well, less lively on Sunday in winter) but there's plenty around and lots of lights giving atmosphere to the region. I can only imagine what it would be like in summer. Our Airbnb host had recommended finding something and that area and coincidence would mean that Cardak was already on my list. Gostilnica Dukat was also semi-closeby and is rated TA #2, but didn't make it there.

That evening our waiter was very impressive, chatting and joking with us, and also mentioning that a group in the next (smokers) room singing and playing instruments had been in the restaurant for 10 hours already...

- Macedonian salad (tomato, roasted peppers, onion, parsley, oil, spices) 120 den x2 - had a double serve of a simple delicious fresh salad;
- Sarma (stuffed cabbage leaves with rice & meat) 80 den x2 - really nice with meaty juices coming through onto the charred leaves;
- Tavche gravche (traditionally Macedonian beans stew in claypot) 130 den - a simple dish of beans in a mild pepper sauce;
- Braised veal in mushroom sauce (veal, fresh mushrooms, sauce, spices) 330 den - tender veal (shin I suspect) with a thick mushroom sauce;
- Pie with leek 150 den - they are well known for these "pies" and compared to previous versions had thinner rounds, crisper shell, and simple leeks. Overall very good.

A very good meal for me, a great meal for the rest of the family.

We even ended up going back a couple of nights later. This time was a different waiter, also friendly but less skilful English made it a bit harder.

- Sarma (vine leaves with rice & meat) - very good with nice mince. I think the cabbage one was better overall (and cheaper);
- Grilled fresh mushrooms 140 den - standard and nice;
- Claypot Cardak (veal, chicken, pork, button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, zucchini, pepper, tomato, onion) 600 den - a mix of meats in a meat-flavoured broth which was too salty and had a strong base, like ham. Some of the meat pieces were thin and had been cooked into disintegrating slightly. It really felt like too much leftovers put together;
- Pie with leeks - this time the dough was a bit doughy and a bit undercooked i think. Flavour still good. 

Not the same experience as the first time. Still an ok meal though overall.

Gorchim, Sofia 01-2020

After a long morning of driving to Rila Monastery and marvelling at the beautiful colourful frescoes surrounded by mountains, trees and snow, it was time for lunch. Although there are reviews of restaurants at Rila Monastery itself, the ratings tend to be low. There looks like a donut(-type) shop behind the monastery which had popular queues, but it isn't lunch and we didn't really feel like queuing.

There's 3 well rated restaurants (on Google at least) on the road toward the monastery. They are Magic of Rila, Gorchim and Хан Дяволски води (something like the Devil's Waterfall, as it is near a waterfall). Our driver took us to Magic first which he recommended. It was closed. He took us them to Devil's Waterfall which he also said was good (although many restaurants in the area are similar). That was closed too. So finally he took us to Gorchim ("the bear one") which he and his customers haven't tried before. I wasn't too fussed as any of the 3 seemed alright.

It's "the bear one" because there is a large wooden sculpture of a bear out the front to greet cars. The terrace part is shielded which is great to sit when it's cold outside, although less so because it counts as an outdoor smoking area. Only moderate English was spoken, but certainly good enough to get by.

The main dish of the area is to try local trout, farmed up there in the cold mountainous waters of the river that runs by many of the restaurants.

- Tripe soup 3 lev - very mild flavour of the tripe and ended up being very milky, and tasting like a savoury milk. A bit disappointing;
- Mushroom soup 2.98 lev - very good and lots of butter;
- Grilled trout 10.5 lev - grilled well with soft flesh, although some parts of the skin were a bit too burnt. A simple dish;
- White cheese of the Shope region (white cheese, eggs, tomatoes, pepper) 5.69 lev - from the picture I was expecting a tomato stew with cheese. In fact the dish was quite different as a big mass of white cheese (very salty like feta) with some tomato slices on top. I thought there was some red pepper from the picture but it was a big chilli pepper added on top instead. Quite disappointed at what it ended up being;
- Tsar's pot (mushrooms, bacon, lukanka Bulgarian salami, mashed potato, sour cream, yellow cheese) 7.9 lev - strong ham bits with a lot of cheese, similar to a very hammy pasta carbonara;
- Flat bread with yellow cheese 2.6 lev - very nice with salty cheese.

Overall wasn't too impressed with the food here. If I ever find myself back, I'd try for one of the other two.

Shtastlivetsa, Sofia 01-2020

For the one slightly fancier meal in Sofia, the option was between Shtaslivetsa and Hadjidragana, both well rated online and both conveniently located close to our Airbnb near Vitosha boulevard. Our Airbnb host independently recommended Shtaslivetsa and even though the place was fully booked on Saturday night, the nice decoration enticed us to book for the Sunday night.

It was very busy inside, with what seemed to be both tourists and Bulgarians. After entering the passageway from the boulevard, it opens up into a large room with even an upstairs, therefore initially hiding just how big this place is. It is adorned with bright lights, art work, some local TV showing food and travel things. Even though the dining was more upmarket, the prices were far from expensive in relative € terms, although a bit more than other local places.

Our waiter (and overall service) was less friendly. I don't think it was a matter of just being a stern faced local, because we'd certainly had smiles elsewhere.

- Hominy (kachamak) with butter & white cheese 7.9 lev - simple with a baked feta-type on top;
- "Caprese" aubergine (roasted aubergine stuffed with mozzarella, smoked yellow cheese, served with tomato sauce, mascarpone & basil) 15.9 lev - nice and rich savoury tomato sauce and a few spotches of plain mascarpone;
- Homemade grilled sausage 15.9 lev - I think it was a very lean beef mince, quite dense and not moist enough. They probably could have used a fattier cut of meat for this;
- Baked duck kebab with porcini & field mushrooms 18.9 lev - I expected a grilled kebab style, but instead received this stew-like dish with tender meat and a decent mushroom sauce.

Overall the setting and food are good. The price difference is really for the setting though. I'd have to say the dishes weren't remarkably better than the other cheaper local Bulgarian fare restaurants we tried. And the service certainly wasn't included in the price.

Izbata Tavern, Sofia 01-2020

I hadn't heard of Izbata but it was recommended by the Free Walking Tour Sofia group. It is located in the hip part of Sofia just south of Cathedral St. Alexander Nevsky, which is where the tour finished at around 12.30pm. After a quick look around the cathedral, it was the perfect time for lunch.

It's a little cosy place that had quite a few tourists there, some American, some Chinese, some Spanish, but also some Bulgarians too. I suppose not surprising that tourists all read and receive the same recommendations.

- Home singed purlenki (typical Bulgarian bread with white cheese) 4.5 lev - charred bread with salty cheese. Very good;
- Fire-dancer's hotchpotch (chicken fillet, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, French beans & olives, with tomato puree & hot pepper) 14.5 lev - chicken really nice with lots of peppers, paprika and potatoes. Unfortunately "hot" in the Balkans is not hot or spicy;
- Kavarma Radomir style (pork, onion, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, red wine, all baked with egg & hot pepper) 14.8 lev - pork tender with a nice milder flavour. The hot pepper on top whole this time was by itself a bit hotter than mixed in the chicken above. Still not too much though;
- Kebapcheta 12.8 lev - minced pork kebab with bouncy meat lots of flavour. Mild potato beans and thin crisp bread;
- Rice with blue plums & spinach (with garlic, dill & walnuts) 8.5 lev - very nice rice with slightly sweet plums.

Overall an excellent meal with very large servings that more than filled 4 of us after the walking tour. I found out later that there are a lot of chillies grown locally (Chilli Hills Farm Shop is a nice place to visit for chilli products and gin).

Sofiyska Banitsa, Sofia 01-2020

This banitsarie (is that a word?) is also known as Софийска Баница.

A good banitsa. A whole one just over a kg was 10.3 lev. They only had cheese or spinach/cheese. It's lighter and more aerated than burek with therefore a milder and less buttery flavour in the pastry.

I probably do prefer the unhealthier heavier burek style personally.

Happy Grill, Sofia 01-2020

It couldn't be sheer coincidence that the internet, our Airbnb host and tour guide all independently recommended Happy for local Bulgarian food. Indeed the place was full of people on this Friday evening, with the locals smoking away in the front section, and the more touristy people trying to escape it at the back. This branch is located directly opposite St. Kyriaki Cathedral too which gives some nice atmosphere walking to/from.

There's a very relaxed vibe and it feels like TGI Friday. With smoking. All the waitresses grace wearing red and short skirts as the uniform.

- Chef's Salad (tomatoes, cucumber, baked cheese, fefferoni peppers, red onion, corn bread, eggplant mousse, parsley) 8.29 lev - good mix with fried cheese crumbly sort of like feta. Very good grilled peppers;
- Polenta with boletus aka kajmak (with baked white cheese, wild mushrooms, red pepper, parsley) 8.99 lev - good mushrooms but not enough of them. Thick cheese grilled layer on top of the polenta;
- Bansko style beef shank 11.99 lev - average overall flavour with some crisp bits but also some dry bits;
- Pork shank with sauerkraut & rice 11.99 lev - outstanding pork tender flavour, which was rich and balanced by mild tangy sauerkraut and rice;
- Milk pie (with homemade vanilla cream, icecream & caramel) 6.49 lev - like a flan flavour with some crumble.

Overall a very good and very cheap meal in a local environment. Would happily come back.

Delhi Grill, London 01-2020

After watching the incredible Jojo Rabbit at Vue Islington, the first dinner of the New Year needed something tasty and convenient. I'd regularly walked past Delhi Grill but never been inside. It has a modern look about it amongst some of the grunge of Chapel Market - not sure if that's necessarily a good or bad omen, but I suppose in a nicer area we prefer a nicer looking place (that isn't anything near glamorous).

Inside the TVs are all playing Bollywood.

- Vegetable samosas (potato & pea) £2.95 - simple and nicely done;
- Kurkuri bhindi (fresh okra fried in crispy batter) £4.5 - fine but a bit expensive;
- Railway lamb on the bone (spicy lamb & potato slow-cooked with tamarind) £9.95 - a deep earthy delicious curry;
- Chicken biryani (marinated chicken cooked in layers of basmati rice served with raita) £9.5 - decent with a slightly milder flavour. More on the wet side, which I didn't mind but others might prefer the classic drier basmati texture;
- Garlic & chilli naan £2.75 - ok but could use more garlic and chilli.

A good local option for curry.

Delhi Grill Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Hache Burger Social, London 10-2019

It has arrived - a vegan burger that tastes like meat. I would even go so far as to potentially choose this burger over a beef one (not only for ethical reasons but even taste). However the cost then becomes a factor...

I had seen the name Beyond Burger but didn't know what it meant up until now. Elements combined together to form a vegan patty to resemble the atomic structure of meat. A 50% lunch offer at Hache to promote it was all I needed to try it. After a wander around Camden and a massage, the holistic day brought us to Hache. It is otherwise a relatively expensive French gourmet burger place.

Beyond Le Fume (Beyond Meat vegan patty, grilled aubergine, smoky semidried tomatoes, Violife Cheddar, zucchini straws, Rubies in the Rubble mustard mayo, toasted ciabatta bun, presented in a smoke-filled dome) £13 full price is majestic and has it all. Theatre, taste, dripping "meat" juice and accompanying grilled smoky vegetables to help. It is wonderful and flavoursome more than I thought. It has taken over the #1 vegan meat patty burger title from the tomato-based one at Temple of Seitan/Camden (https://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/temple-of-seitan-london-09-2018).

Truffle fries were alright, but the truffle oil was very strong and made it all seem a bit too fake. I'll stick with the burger. At £13 and more expensive than any meat one, it takes some consideration though.

Hach Burger Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Kahani, London 10-2019

A fancy Indian restaurant in Chelsea opened by a Michelin-star chef who used to be at Tamarind. The somewhat discreet location off the main road and the prices probably mean it really is a fancy dinner place generally, which is why the offer of 50% weekday lunch came about and worked well for me. Even half price with a cocktail and service charge is not a small number - although to be fair we almost certainly over-ordered.

(Prices are before 50% discount)

- Soft shell crunchy crab with Mangalorean spices, kachumber, smoked tomato chutney £12;
- Smoked Malabar prawns marinated with fresh turmeric, coconut, curry leaves £16 - big juicy firm-texture prawns that are really excellent;
- Guinea fowl tikka, chettinad spices, smoked tomato makhni sauce, Ajwain roti £20;
- Tandoori Somerset lamb chops with Kashmiri chillies, Nagercoil clove £16;
- Lobster tail, tossed with shallots, brown garlic, crushed peppercorns £28 - nicely cooked with meat that had texture and wasn't mushy, but probably a bit expensive still and wouldn't get it again;
- Hydrabadi Biryani with Prawn, braised fragrant basmati rice, exotic spices, mint, coriander £25;
- Garlic naan £4.

The food is good, what can I say. Probably not that much better in my mind to justify a return at full price over the cheaper options (probably equal to the half price amount) as say Dishoom, but I would gladly return if the special was running again. Although at full price, I'd still have difficulty choosing it over Farzi.

Kahani Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Fiesta del Marisco, O Grove 10-2019

I've wanted to go to this seafood festival for many years now, since about 2012 when I first read about it and was planning some food holidays. Unfortunately it never happened, mainly because I like travelling in September and so going in early October can be difficult. But finally, the stars aligned and I managed to get there in 2019.

After flying into Santiago de Compostela and driving down to the lovely seafood town of O Grove, I realised that tourists really don't go there. There was us 2 tourists, and we met one Dutch journalist who was passing through for work. Every single other person was Spanish.

The seafood market in O Grove is small, but has lots of high quality ingredients at reasonable prices. I only had a short lunch to cook some razor clams, percebes and scallops. I would have liked to stay longer and take advantage, but maybe that's for another time.

The town is obsessed by seafood with homages to the crustacean located around the place.

How was the fiesta then? Average unfortunately. Despite all the great local ingredients, only a select few are presented at the fiesta and only cooked in specific ways. There's some impromptu groups of people singing and dancing, and at night there was some reggaeton singers for the underage smokers and drinks (and the older ones at the back) for more entertainment.

Don't get me wrong, the seafood isn't bad, on the contrary it is decent quality, but there was nothing special there that I haven't seen before. The local mussels are large and delicious and the arroz (rice) and fideos (noodles) were full of flavour. Also the bread was excellent, but it's not great if that's a highlight in a seafood place. Razor clams were ok, clams and mussels small but flavoursome (oysters better). The scallops were tiny little things grilled and shrivelled. Considering the quality and breadth of the market, couldn't they have expanded the dishes a bit more? There was also a lobster tank and another crustacean I've never seen before (can't remember the name) but they weren't being served. The tease.

There's also commerative earthern ware and cups to take home for the memories.

I'm glad I've tried it, but I won't be back for the fiesta. Maybe just Galicia again for the seafood markets to enjoy.