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I nearly used a most pretentious word the other day to describe my rhubarb crumble. On reflection I removed it from the description of my luscious, gloopy rhubarb because “unctuous” has always annoyed me in restaurant reviews. So I did some research.

What is it about “unctuous” and restaurant reviewers? It seems to be one of the words du jour for describing anything:

  • creamy
  • buttery
  • smooth
  • sticky
  • oily
  • gooey

And so on. This is what it really means, from dictionary.com:

  1. characterized by excessive piousness or moralistic fervor, esp. in an affected manner; excessively smooth, suave, or smug.
  2. of the nature of or characteristic of an unguent or ointment; oily; greasy.
  3. having an oily or soapy feel, as certain minerals.

Just what I feel like snacking on.

And here are some real-life examples of it being used by restaurant reviewers (and creative others):

  • “The Sauce Madère was as sticky and unctuous as it should be…” [review]
  • “Unctuous Beef and Leek Stew Topped with Cheesy Mash…” [review]
  • “… shepherded by the unctuous and principle-free David Cameron, ran a campaign based heavily on personality and a rejection of the ‘nasty party’ image …” [AOL Online]
  • “A few months later, Stark is fending off congressional hearings from a government (and unctuous rival arms developer Justin Hammer) eager to seize his suit, …” [review of Iron Man 2]
  • “… advising the White House or Congress on economics or national security and from unctuous, pompous bloviating on any legal subject on television.” [this is just great – I have to go look up bloviating.]
  • “… images of primroses and little lambs and fox cubs peering through the shrubbery, all accompanied by that unctuous, ecclesiastical chumminess, …” [review of Doctor Who. The new one.]
  • “Cut up, this liempo was fatty and unctuous, yet not ‘sumol’ or unpleasantly fat. It was a light tan color, clearly fully cooked, it had herbs spread evenly among the pieces and it was very tasty. It was a bit on the salty side, …” [this last was from an online restaurant review in Manila entitled ‘Battle of the bellies‘. Yes. Quite. I am not sure what the opponent was.]

So unctuous means oily and revolting. Sleazy and trustworthy. And is associated with politicians and arch villians. And strange Filippino food.

I am not sure I want to use it to describe my rhubarb crumble. Thank goodness I pulled myself back from the brink.

Apparently bloviating means “to speak pompously”.

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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 shall say no more.

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I had a dim sum lunch with the team yesterday at The Regal on Courtney Place in Wellington. Stu’s partner Hong has directed me there in the past and I was not disappointed this time.  If you are trying to find it – Embassy Theatre end, go up the poky stairs beside the Lotto shop.

The Regal is the real thing. It almost feels like dim sum in Hong Kong. A very high proportion of customers were Chinese. The instructions on the table are in Chinese. The environment is no frills. For Craig and myself it was similar to our regular food surprise meals across SE Asia where we just get the locals to order us things.

David Burton has previously reviewed the restaurant and given it 4.5 stars for food. He particularly commends their crispy pork and it certainly went down a treat with the team.

Wait staff constantly circle and offer trays of items. They do have average to poor English which caused some confusion between “chives” and “tripe” which was of a little concern for some of the guys. And also means I cannot name with confidence or indeed accuracy everything that we ate. In general I can say that the chicken feet went down a treat with Craig who pronounced them the best he had had. He did exclaim every time he spat out a claw which means I won’t sit next to him next time! A variety of delicious home made dumplings.  Pork spare ribs. Beef tendons. Scallops in rice pancakes (the shiny steamed version). Tasty pork buns. Chive and pork (or prawn?) pancakes. Or maybe it was tripe.

No photos sorry. I didn’t have my camera.

It was ridiculously good value. We ate all we could and it came to a whopping $14 per head. Go there.

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