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Archive for the ‘Eating out’ Category

It has been a wee while since I have food blogged. Got kinda buried writing about non food stuff in other areas and then felt all worded-out.

I have a wee set of backed up photos and recipes including how to make gnocchi from scratch which was a bit of a revelation.

Anyways, in April I blogged about a rather spectacularly bad experience at the Mojo cafe at Wellington Zoo. Despite the vow never to darken the doorstep again I have gone back several times to meet friends with kids who find the convenience outweighs the inconsistency. I have generally restricted myself to coffees and steered clear of food from the menu. The counter food is prepared off-site and is fairly consistent with 0ther Mojos.

The service has remained inconsistent and unsophisticated – if cheerful.

So last Friday I met my friend Chris there and Had a Crisis. What I found interesting was not so much what happened but how they handled it.

It was a sunny day and we chose an outside table. I walked towards Chris, and promptly skidded on the tiles via a spilled drink that hadn’t been wiped up. This wouldn’t have been so bad but I was stepping forward at the time and my ankle buckled as I slipped. And carried my full weight forward for a metre while buckled, as I virtually did the splits and ended up on the ground.

It was one of those: holy crap I must have broken something moments.

It happened so fast I was left prone on the ground trying to work out how I could be so clumsy. Chris was most impressed that I dropped neither my glass nor the drink. Probably shows my priorities.

In too much pain to move I chose to stay where I was to see if it would settle down. He went inside to grab some ice. And came out looking totally floored. There was no ice apparently. In a cafe. WTF. He was followed by a somewhat surly wait person who silently handed over a banana popsicle (one!) to pack on the ankle, and went back inside. Leaving me on the ground, white-lipped with pain.

So, in the US I would have been tenderly scraped off the ground and the entire supply of all flavours of popsicles sacrificed to my ankle in the interests of avoiding a lawsuit. A spilled drink. Not cleared up…. On the cafe’s premises…

I sat on the ground for over 20 minutes until the pain subsided enough that I felt I could try and move. Other customers who saw the accident came out and offered advice and assistance. And commented on the expression on the wait person’s face when Chris asked for ice. I would liken it to asking a Lufthansa flight attendant for a second packet of peanuts.

So… maybe I am being unreasonable here. But THIS WAS THE ZOO CAFE! At the Zoo! With an information desk. And a reception. And I am assuming first aid centre. At the very least I am sure they keep ice packs for the giraffes. I would have taken a vet.

Surely Mojo trains its staff on basic first aid. Or even etiquette. “Customer brakes ankle on our premises, offer band-aid.”

Sheesh.

(Went to hospital the next day as it was too bunged to walk on at all. It is a massively bad sprain. Left with crutches and two panadol).

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My friend Sue has just spent a quality nine days in Wellington Hospital’s maternity ward after giving birth to twins. Sue tends to be a lot less fussy than me about the standard of food deemed to be “edible”. Sue eats (and enjoys) frozen dinners from the supermarket. But even Sue was balking at consuming much of the institutional repast served up from the hospital’s kitchen. I am sure that if you took the food into a lab and spun it into its component cells – it must be nutricious or the hospital wouldn’t serve it. You just don’t want to look at it when you eat it.

Sue reached her Waterloo when the lunch shown below was served at about day 6 in the maternity ward.

Hospital food - Sue's Waterloo

Hospital food - Sue's Waterloo

I got a distress call that she needed real food. And was desperately craving eggs. I drew a blank for a moment. I was in town running errands. It was freezing and wintry-wet. And I was trying to work out how I could pick up scrambled eggs from somewhere and get them to her without them turning into a revolting congealed mess.

The epiphany came when I remembered Pranah’s Spanish omelette (with tomato, olives and potato and a green side salad) – delicious hot or lukewarm. Pranah is a vegetarian cafe in Newtown and one of my favourite Wellington brunch/ lunch spots. As a die-hard carnivore, you know the food is good if I can forget the lack of bacon on the menu. They serve Newtown’s own People’s Coffee and rank up there as one of the better coffee spots in the city.

The Pranah team came to Sue’s rescue. The result wasn’t as pretty as it usually is on a plate as the goal was to keep it warm. The chef was particularly creative with the takeaway side salad. Rather than stuffing it into the container with the hot omelette he put it in a milkshake cup.

The good news is that Susan had a piping hot, healthy and delicious lunch. And polished off the lot. Creative serving photo displayed below.

Pranah's Spanish omelette - takeaway

Pranah's Spanish omelette - takeaway. It is normally served flat on the plate with green salad on top

Pranah's side salad

Pranah's side salad - creatively served.

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As a long term risotto@home kinda person I made a radical departure into paella maybe 18 months ago. It has become a much requested dinner party staple. My concern was that I hadn’t tried the real thing on its home turf. You always have a sneaking concern that you have the weightings of the flavours slightly out of whack, when you make a classic dish without the frame of reference of trying it in its country of origin.

I have never forgotten the expression on Sarah S’s face when she tried spaghetti bolognaise in Bologna. Outrage. The real thing is very subtle.

When in Barcelona we had very good paella at two restaurants. Can Majo came highly recommend by just about every blog, guide and online and print source we found. This meant that we were unable to get a reservation on the Saturday with our party of six.  Instead we went to L’Arròs in Port Vell which is the slightly more downmarket sister restaurant to La Gavina (also recommended), which is a bit more glam and right on the waterfront.

L’Arròs had a superb menu, very seafood focussed as you would expect but with a meat section for the non fish or rice eaters. The paella were split into seafood and meat. Everyone is served an individual portion direct from the paella pan. Unfortunately for 6 year old Alice (who is allergic to fish), they served a little amuse bouche meatbally dish when we arrived. There was much debate over whether this was chicken, pork, lamb (no!) or something else. It was obviously fish as Alice suffered the after effects some hours later. Delicious for the rest of us.

In the end three of us went for the swordfish, prawn and green garlic paella (below). I was yearning for the lobster or shellfish but given that I am still somewhat allergic to shellfish I figured this was foolhardy.

The paella was cooked to perfection. The fish was tender and delicious. The rice had a little more bite to it than I maybe do at home. Note to my friend Lulu who gnashes her teeth constantly about restaurants undercooking rice. However the subtle flavours of garlic, peppers, onion, smoked paprika, saffron and fennel – all came through.

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic - selected by three of us

Paella with shellfish including scallops

Nick M's choice - paella with scallops

The next day Andrew and I had managed to secure a table at Can Majo. This place is likewise in Port Vell although on the other side. Can Majo is uniformly recommended with the only negatives being some digs at their service. When we arrived some 10 minutes late they were turning people away and looked baffled about the existence of our reservation. Despite Andrew spelling his name, something different had made it to the reservation book. I suggested that we use my name in Spain as Caroline is converted to Carolina as standard and there were fewer chances of mix-ups.

In the end they dragged in a table from somewhere and organised a place for it. I would definitely say that the service there is on the curt side. Having said that, I was feeling somewhat sympathetic for the owner / maitre’d. Can Majo is in a great spot and obviously gets a lot of people just trying for a table on the off-chance. Its reputation has also dropped it onto the tourist radar. The owner has the somewhat edgy air of a man who has created a great restaurant, found himself in the guidebooks, and is faced with a bunch of ignorant twits (I hate to say it – Brits) turning up to dine there. His attitude reminded me of the owners of Two Rooms in Miramar in Wellington with their infamous turfing out of a woman who arrived wearing too much perfume. And hence destroying the palettes of the other diners.

There were a fair number of locals dining there including what looked like an astonishingly well-heeled “Branjelina” family who turned up en masse with about 8 kids of every ethnicity in super designer clothing. Andrew and I were riveted. Eat your heart out Benetton.

Beside us were a couple of middle aged British woman who were attempting to send back their wine. The owner was called over and a scene kicked in. In essence they didn’t like their wine. It wasn’t off. They didn’t like it. They said it was too sweet and they wanted a dry white. The owner said it was the driest white he had. Meanwhile Andrew ordered a glass of Spanish sauvignon blanc. It was much more fruity with a higher sugar content than the NZ or French equivalents. Because Spain is HOTTER! Of course the wine tastes different in Spain (or France, or Germany, or Chile, or Greece, or New Zealand). The terroir is different. The weather is different. My view is that when travelling you take your chances with local winelists. If you are not familiar with the wine you just have to try it. Send it back if it is off. Buy another wine if you don’t like it.

So to the food. Superb. We had a couple of fishy tapas including teeny tiny fried fish. Very tasty. Even if Andrew did mutter that it was miniature fish’n’chips [minus chips]. Cretin.

The paella are for two or more so we were bound to share one. We went for a general seafoody one but in this case in broth which basically meant more soupy than your standard paella. What I like about the Can Majo style is that they bring the pan to the table to show you. Then it is removed and the messy business of portioning onto your plates is done on a table to the side. Plates are brought back with your paella. Plus the pan with leftovers for the most hearty appetites. I have to say I thought that Can Majo had the edge over the previous day.

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

And the leftovers…

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

I am cooking paella on Friday night so will be posting a recipe over the weekend. Kate B has already had a go at my generic base how to make a paella recipe. With much success I understand.

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I was in Barcelona for a very important purpose. My friends Chan (Sri Lankan) and Neasa (Irish) – both New Zealand residents – were getting married in the obvious Kiwi-Asian-Gaelic location. Barcelona.

Chan waiting

Waiting for Neasa

NeasaandChan

Neasa and Chan - the bride and groom

The wedding ceremony - outside

The outside venue for the wedding ceremony

The wedding music courtesy of Neasa's friends

Neasa's Irish friends play the wedding music

The wedding venue - inside

The wedding venue - inside

The musical bride

The musical bride

Strictly speaking this was a blessing only as the legalising ceremony was in New Zealand before I left. Their wedding deserves special mention in a foodie blog due to the quality (and quantity) of the food. Two words. Lavish. Delicious.

One of my pet gripes with weddings is that guests are often abandonned for hours after the ceremony with nothing but glasses of bubbles for sustenance. The bride and groom scarper for photos while friends and family get hammered thanks to drinking on an empty stomach. Well prepared bridal couples sometimes ensure canapes are passed around at this time. Given that canapes are priced per piece the general ratio is 3 to 4 per guest. Or several mouthfuls for the more Survivor-like guests; and nothing for the rest.

Not at this wedding. Copious quantities of tapas were served with Cava (Spanish bubbles). Tapas ranged from tortilla (like a Spanish frittata with eggs and potatoes) to fish croquettes to small Spanish meatballs with caramelised onions.  When the formal ceremonies recommenced the troupe of guests were relaxed and with the edge taken off.

Tapas were followed with a buffet featuring paella, confit duck braised in port wine with pears, and a luscious salad with grilled goats cheese. And this was just a corner.

Things really got out of hand with the desserts. Neasa and Chan were obviously unable to shortlist out of the mouthwatering options of classic Spanish desserts, pastries, chocolates and more. So we got everything in tiny pieces in multiple courses. My table had the inspired thought to each have one of everything. And were floored when we discovered that the options kept being refreshed. Completely done in we were faced with the daunting prospect of the wedding cake. A chocolate, truffle, mousse cake. Each.  I feel slightly queasy remembering choking down a corner. Because I had to. Because it was so delicious.

The dessert - second course

Second round of the dessert

The above is a compliment to the bride and groom. It takes a lot to out cater me and I officially concede to being done-in by the wedding feast. Viva Barcelona. And all my love and best wishes to Neasa and Chan. Should you choose to reconfirm your vows in Barcelona anytime. Count me in.

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I had an absolutely superb few days in Barcelona which is now officially one of my Favourite Places to go in the world. For a total foodie, Barcelona is paradise. And ridiculously gorgeous and quirky and interesting and historic.

It is testament to Barcelona’s charms that I was able to recover from an attempted theft of my wallet by a pickpocket on the metro when arriving from the airport. Fortunately an old lady witnessed the theft and grabbed the pickpocket by one arm and belted him over the head with her handbag using her other hand. I got my wallet back. Feeling somewhat shaken I dragged Andrew off for a tapa and glass of red wine at La Vinya del Senyor, a bijoux little wine bar overlooking the church of Santa Maria del Mar.

La Vinya del Senyor

La Vinya del Senyor opposite Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

This place came well recommended by our usual arsenal of paper and online guides. And was located by Andrew’s iPhone.  It has a comprehensive and astonishingly good value wine list include a fair number by glass. Wine is so cheap in Spain that most places tend to offer a house wine only or no more than one or two wines by the glass. People just order a bottle and leave what they don’t drink.

We had a Gago 2007, from Toro; and a Gran Caus Negre 2002, from Penedes. Both were very lush however we both preferred the former.

For tapas we had a few olives; patates al oli fumat amb pimenton de la vera; and canalons de rostit amb oli ceps. The second was pretty straight forward. New potatoes in some form of smoked olive oil with smoked paprika dusted over. Simple and delicious. Lord knows what the second was. I have tried several online translators all of which drew a blank. The closest description is:

  • kind of a pate-ish mixture (very tasty) in a sort of sausage skin but open on each end
  • looked like pate in a Vietnamese spring roll wet rice paper wrap.

I shall ask Sergio. My sister in law asked if this was the online Spanish version of “Ask Jeeves”. It is not. Sergio is a Spaniard who used to work as part of my team!

Andrew enjoying a tapa

Andrew enjoying a tapa

We were joined at the bar by the Prebble-Markwells en famille from Stockholm. Super to catch up with friends in fabulous places. And enough to drive the purse snatcher from front of mind.

And finally a photo of the church…

Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar

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At short notice my brother and sister in law organised a long weekend in France for Easter weekend. Everything was swimmingly on track right up to the point we were queuing in the car ready to board the Seafrance ferry on Good Friday. The Seafrance crew called a short notice strike. Andrew sorted out a new booking for us on the Norfolk Line and it ended up taking us nearly 11 hours door to door by the time we arrived in Montrieul-sur-Mer.

M-s-M is a dear wee French town in Normandy, very near Calais and a key stop for the mail coach between Calais and Paris in the pre car / train era. This town impressed Victor Hugo so much in the 1835 that he made it one of the settings in Les Miserables. For a short period Jean Valjean was the mayor of Montrieul.

Apparently Norman food is known for being:

a) based on good local produce (true)

b) creamy (also true)

c) saucy (likewise true)

d) pretty rich and substantial (definitely true).

What I would also add is that:

e) it is also very heavy and cooked to within an inch of its life. And everything on your plate has a sauce on it.

Edward, Andrew and I had lunch on Saturday at Le Darnetal which is a very traditional local restaurant. I personally found it very tasty yet somewhat overwhelming. The kind of food where you want to nap for the rest of the day afterwards.

We all ordered one of the three course set menus.

Edward and I both had the Langoustines au Beurre d’Orange as a starter. I would describe this as teeny tiny, super fresh  langoustines in a puddle of orangy butter. Very tasty. The minor shock was some form of a mousseline in the centre. It was eggy and very slightly fishy but fairly tasteless. I could have done without it.

Langoustines au Buerre d'Orange

Langoustines au Buerre d'Orange

This was followed by Filet de Boeuf aux Duex Poivres, Setchuan and Mignonette (for Edward). You can translate this as two pieces of beef fillet each covered in a different creamy pepper sauce. And the Confit de Canard Rôti et Magrat Poêlé au Miel et Sesamé (for Andrew and myself). This was a very rich confit duck, with some roast slices of duck covered in a creamy gravy with sesame seeds in it.  Of the two I much preferred the beef which was tender and delicious and not quite as overwhelming as the duck.

Filet de Boeuf au deux poivres, setchuan et mignonnette

Filet de Boeuf au deux poivres, setchuan et mignonnette

We weren’t planning on dessert but in the end couldn’t resist the Crème brulee and a Café Crème. I didn’t manage to make it through mine but it was pretty much what you would expect. Note the flatter ramekins used in France.

Le Darnetal creme brulee

Le Darnetal creme brulee

Overall I would say that the service was great. It feels very typically French. Go there if you fancy napping for the rest of the afternoon, not if you are after something light.

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I found myself marooned in stormy weather in Islington today and took refuge in the Duke of Cambridge organic pub in Islington, London. I was introduced to this pub some years ago by my brother who seems to have an internal map for every truly special or boutique London pub in just about any area you can think of.

This was not the best meal I have had at the DoC. However this is only because it was late lunchtime, and I chose a simple and warming leek and potato soup (with parmesan) thanks to the sub arctic weather. I have had more glam pub meals there previously. The soup did rank up amongst the best-in-class leek and potato soups I have ever had. Or made. I accompanied it with a hearty glass of organic Argentinian malbec which went down very well given the weather.

You can read more about the DoC online but some random comments:

  • Blackboard menu based on what’s fresh, that changes every day. And changes during the day as things run out.
  • Really good and interesting hearty pub food.
  • Locally sourced organic ingredients, in season, from sustainable sources.
  • Organic wine.
  • Organic beer and cider – on tap.
  • Organic everything else you can think of including tampons from the dispenser in the ladies.

I strongly recommend this place and would go so far as to say it is worth a trip for Sunday lunch.

Duke of Cambridge blackboard menu changes daily - or hourly

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